“Jesus, Sook. You look like shit,” Lafayette sidled up to her as she grabbed some extra spoons out of the metal canister in the back hallway.
Sookie cast him a withering glance before sighing deeply. “Long nights,” she answered vaguely. “I’m not getting much sleep.”
Her friend’s beautiful, almond-shaped eyes slitted in amusement. “Someone helping you with that?”
Her head shot up and her eyes rounded. “What do you mean?”
He held his hands up in innocence. “Just asking. You got someone in your bed? Insomnia can fuckin’ fantastic if it’s the result of fantastic fuckin’.”
Sookie blushed and looked away.
“No,” she denied sheepishly. “No one’s helping me with it. I’m not sleeping all by myself, thank you.”
And it was the truth. As Lafayette snickered and smiled knowingly, Sookie couldn’t help her deepening blush, despite her innocent claim. No, it was absolutely true that no one had been in her bed over the last eight days. That was the problem. The sleeplessness was caused by thinking of someone else in her bed. Every night since this whole stupid feeding deal began, Sookie had spent too many hours in bed tossing restlessly. Usually her quiet nights alone had been one of her favorite parts of the day. It meant she couldn’t hear a single thought from a human head and she cherished the silence as it wrapped around her, as snuggly as her blankets.
Now, the silence was eclipsed by the loneliness. And the loneliness was the worst on the nights Eric left after sipping his payments, taking his deep purrs, trespassing hands and mercifully quiet thoughts with him.
A spoon slipped from her grasp and pinged on the floor tiles.
“Fuck,” she muttered, bending to pick it up.
The curve of her ass was too much for her over-sexed friend and he laid a resounding smack on her left cheek.
Sookie shot upright. “Hey!”
Lafayette chuckled naughtily. “Come on, sweet cheeks. Jesus and I are going to a club in Shreveport tonight. Wanna come? Blow off some steam? It’ll cure what fuckin’ ails ya, that’s fo sho.”
She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Trying to gay me up?”
“It ain’t gay,” he replied, waving a spatula whimsically in the air. “Just a club. Jesus wants to dance. Keeps sayin’ we need to represent in public.”
Sookie smirked. “Represent what?”
“Ah, fuck knows. Gayness. Hotness. We gotness lotness of both.”
“That you do,” she agreed kindly. She turned towards her tables and her spoon-less customer, but hesitated before turning back. “You’re just going out to dance?”
Lafayette nodded. “Shame all the straights with our shapes, then we’re going home. That’s all.”
She nibbled her lip, then shrugged. “Yeah, okay. Why not?”
He tugged her ponytail approvingly. He didn’t see her shiver at the thought of another man who enjoyed tugging it playfully. “Best fuckin’ answer in the world,” he said. “We’re leavin’ at nine.”
“Great,” she said, turning back to work. “Catch up with you then.”
Sookie headed back out into the dining area, feeling more empowered than she had all week. After all, it had been three days. Three. Fucking. Days. After she’d woken up the morning after the third night she’d fed him, she hadn’t seen nor heard from him since. As she’d sat up in her bed, she’d been shocked to find ten bottles of iron supplements on her night stand. The expensive kind, the ones you see on the very top shelf in health food stores. There was no note, but it was obvious who had arranged them in a circle in such a personal place. She’d huffed in indignation at their mysterious appearance, noting that ten bottles was waaaay too many for just two more feedings. Presumptuous bastard.
Walking downstairs for breakfast, she’d been doubly shocked by what she found there.
Balloons. Big, shiny, silver helium balloons. Hundreds of them.
They crowded her ceiling, not a single inch of it could be seen under the press of their metallic bodies. Sookie had stood in wonder, looking up at them. They were the type of fancy balloons you gave to someone for a birthday, or a graduation, except these balloons didn’t have any decoration on them. They were just silver.
Lead, she amended silently. They’re lead freakin’ balloons.
She couldn’t decide if she was delighted or furious. Not a single one of her new airborn friends had a ribbon. They floated without tethers. No way to pull them down. Except one. One balloon had a black ribbon near the door, a piece of paper tied limply to the end. She reached out and snatched it up.
With us, anything is possible.
Since that morning, she’d had half a mind to dig out Jason’s old slingshot and shoot the damn things, one by one, right off her ceiling. But on each night she’d returned to find herself alone, she hadn’t had the heart to kill them. On the contrary, in the absence of Eric, she’d found their annoying/amusing presence… comforting.
“Here you go,” she handed the spoon to the elderly woman who was waiting impatiently to eat her soup. She didn’t thank her. Sookie was too preoccupied to care.
Last night, her solitude had driven her to do something stupid. Grabbing her phone, she’d swallowed her pride and texted him. Where was he? Didn’t he remember what she’d said about dragging this out? What the fuck? Her text had asked as much. She’d waited forty-three minutes before he texted back.
Missing me, lover?
“Augh!” Sookie had thrown her phone across the room. Fucker.
And maybe, yeah. Maybe she was missing him. Maybe she was sitting around at night, feeling cold and lonely, missing the heat she felt when his arrogance made her blood boil, then missing how the press of his body cooled her down as he drank from her after their fight. Maybe his visits weren’t the inconvenience she’d originally pegged them to be. Maybe they were…nice.
On the nights Eric came to her, Sookie never thought about the fairies coming for her again. They would never dare risk an attack from a vampire as powerful as Eric. Neither would other vampires. Even though her home was hers again, she still felt safer when he was curled up on the sofa with her, the shield of his body pressed solidly against her back. And then there were werewolves. She’d already seen him tear a werewolf apart that had threatened her home.
Now that he’d been gone for three days, she’d had plenty of time to make these rather annoying realizations. Worse was the realization that she wanted more than just nice. She wanted fuckin’ fantastic. And the way to feel fuckin’ fantastic was…
“Shut up,” she told her brain.
Nine o’clock came quickly. Thank God. Lafayette was right. Sookie needed to blow off steam. She wanted to dance, dammit. Shake her sugar in a hot, sweaty, thumping room of bad house music. That sounded perfect. After her shift was over, she changed into a simple pink tank top that she kept in her work cubby in Sam’s office. She pulled her hair out of its bun and reworked it into a high ponytail, one that showed off her high cheekbones and slender neck. She was still in her black shorts and flat sneakers, but she didn’t care. It wasn’t like she was on a date. The boys wouldn’t care, being too into each other to even glance her way. She jogged into the parking lot and found them waiting.
Jesus kissed her cheek hello. “Hey girl,” he greeted kindly, his unusually blue eyes beaming. “You look nice.”
“Liar,” Sookie chided smilingly. “I look like a worn out barmaid. Thank you, though.” She took in his t-shirt and jeans, as well as his muscles that were trying to burst out of them. “And you two are going to make all the girls cry. It’s a sin how pretty y’all are.”
“Amen,” Lafayette agreed without a hint of modesty. “Now lets go before I change my mind about sharing him.”
They agreed to take Layfayette’s fancy new car. Sookie’s mouth hung open when he explained how Eric had sold it to him for a buck. She could barely form the words to ask why.
“Hell if I know,” he admitted truthfully. “He said he was trying to enlist me, but why the hell he just didn’t tear my arms off instead of bribing me, I’ll never know. Crazy-ass mothafucka.”
Sookie sat silently in the back, mulling over such loaded generosity. She decided that Eric must be very, very rich. This car and her house seemed like a big deal for small fries like her and her friends, but then, they earned about twenty-three grand a year (or she did, at any rate). Eric must be a gazillionaire, in which case his gifts meant considerably less to him. Indeed, a Corvette and major renovations to him were probably like Walmart gift cards to her. Everything was relative.
The club was exactly what she’d been hoping for as they pulled up. Loud and anonymous. They could feel the bass of the music in the parking lot as they walked up to the darkened entrance and got the wave-in by the bouncer. Jesus bought their drinks at the crowded bar. Sookie downed hers in two sips, kissed her friends on the cheeks, then slipped alone into the pulsing throng of undulating bodies on the dance floor.
She needed more than anything to get lost.
She let the throb of the beat fill her limbs, not caring one bit that she didn’t have a partner (most didn’t, anyway), and began to move. She’d been told by friends in the past that she danced well, her arms swishing and her hips curving in all the right directions. She smiled softly as her blood pressure increased and endorphins kicked in.
She felt good. Damn good.
A man materialized in front of her and slid into her space, placing his hands on her hips. Sookie’s eyes rolled discreetly. God, why did guys always do that? She had given no sign that she wanted company. She put her hands on his chest to gently but firmly push him away. Despite the heat of everyone, the handsome man was room temperature. Sookie looked him in the eye and heard nothing but static in his head. Vampire.
“No, thank you,” she said firmly.
“Are you sure?” he asked flirtingly. Sookie felt the familiar tingle of a vampiric mind brushing against hers. Glamoring, my ass, she thought wryly.
She leaned in, making it clear that she saw him perfectly. “Very sure,” she said. “Find someone else.”
He blinked in surprise, his glamoring gaze breaking. Sookie knew that her ability to ward it off was unprecedented to most vamps, but she didn’t care. She came out tonight expressly to get away from vampire bullshit. She didn’t have the patience to invent some plausible act, like not looking him in the eye or being dead drunk, to mollify his suspicions. Tonight, she was a bad-ass mystery. Let him fucking wonder.
And it worked. He melted back into the mob.
Sookie sighed with relief and swiveled away, already forgetting about him and gyrating to a new, heavier pulse of rhythm. The floor filled with more people who wanted to get in on the sexy-sounding beat. She was so lost in her own world that she didn’t notice the crowd had pushed her to the side of the room, close to the VIP booths that overlooked the entire floor. Her head craned back as she looked up at the swirling lights that flickered in time to the music. They dimmed for a moment, then blasted the room with three seconds of white light before sliding back into reds and blues.
What she saw in those three seconds froze her blood. She gasped and dropped her head, staring at the ground, grateful that the room had gone dark again. Not that it really helped her out.
Vampires, particularly Eric Northman, had astonishing eyesight.
Sookie turned away from the VIP section and slithered through the sweaty tangle of people, desperate to reach the center.
He was there. Sitting in one of the booths, a leggy, beautiful woman perched serenely in his lap. He was in a grey suit, his black button-down shirt open at the collar. Two other tall, imposing men sat in the booth with them, each of them with similar companions, making Sookie suspect those two were also vampires. They were deep in conversation, directing their voices with obvious deference in Eric’s direction. Except Eric wasn’t looking at them, nor was he distracted by his lovely date/dinner. As Sookie had looked up and the lights had lifted, she’d seen met his gaze as it lasered across the dance floor, straight through her own eyes, right to the back of her skull. His head was lowered, his blunt teeth slightly bared as he watched her. Sookie had seen that look before. Bill had often stared at her like that, right before he’d torn her clothes off. To see such unhinged lust in a vampire as powerful and unemotional as Eric?
Sookie felt like she’d been pelted by a snowball. The violence in his eyes and the chill of their color sent her reeling into the safety of human witnesses.
Oh, dear God. Sookie kept her eyes lowered, her sense of peace and hedonism totally destroyed. What the hell was he doing here? Of all the fucking places in the whole fucking town, why was he here? Sookie threw out her mental nets, listening desperately to the people around her. What was this place? Were they in another vampire bar? Would her friends be stupid enough to come to one? But a brief scan of the humans around her proved that none of them were thinking about vampires. Sex and drugs, sure, but not vampire sex or V. It was just your typical human pleasure-seeking.
Without meaning to or even wanting to, Sookie let her eyes lift over the heads around her, back towards the booths. Eric was still staring right at her. The beautiful woman on his lap was whispering something in his ear, clearly hoping to get his attention. He didn’t even blink in her direction as he continued to steal the air from Sookie’s lungs with his intensity. She noticed that the woman had lovely skin. It glowed with health and excellent genes. With her hair pulled up, it was clear that she bore no vampire bite, unlike the other women at the table, who were visibly marked with twin puncture holes.
Sookie yanked her eyes away, anger and hurt burning hotly under her lids as she closed them.
She’s stunning, she thought miserably. Like a model or a movie star. Sookie ducked behind two much taller girls as they laughed and bounced to the music, palming her own throat in dismay. There was no bite on her neck, either. Eric had always been kind enough to heal her after each session.
“Bastard,” she muttered, shamelessly hiding from him. She thought back to each of their feedings. How gentle and infuriating and sweet he had been with her. Sookie wasn’t sure why, but she’d stupidly assumed that Eric’s treatment of her was unique among his meals. That he didn’t ordinarily bite so softly, or worry about the health of the donors, or whisper reassuringly to them, or most of all, heal them when he finished.
The girl in his lap was proof, though. While the other girls were left bleeding and marked, Eric’s girl was shown more consideration.
Unless, Sookie paled as another thought occurred to her, one that had her pushing through the crowd, desperate to escape. Unless he bit her somewhere else.
Unwanted images of Eric erupted in her mind. Images of him perched over the woman’s prone body, his face buried between her thighs. Between her breasts. Sucking her exquisite body as she held him tightly by the hair and moaned in pleasure. Sookie swore out loud, not that anyone could hear her over the music.
Why did she care?
It’s not like she thought Eric didn’t feed from other humans on the nights he wasn’t with her. Not like she’d asked him to, or even cared if he did. It was none of her fucking concern what the man did. He wasn’t her boyfriend. She had zero interest in being his girlfriend. None at all.
She was backhanding her eyes, nearly at the exit, when she plowed into Jesus.
“Hey, babe,” he smiled, then frowned when he saw her face. “Whoa! What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” she yelled quickly over the pulse. “Nothing! I’m fine. Just…just some jerk grabbing me on the dance floor.”
“Oh, hey,” he was consoling in an instant, pulling her into an intimate, yet platonic hug. “It’s okay. Me and La are here. We won’t let anything happen to you, all right?”
Sookie gave a weak, stuttering laugh into his shirt as she let him hug her. “Yeah, I know. I’m okay, seriously. I just wanna dance without getting molested, you know?”
She hoped her lie sounded convincing. Jesus pulled back and flashed her a sweet smile. “Then you ran into the right man, mama. Come on,” he tugged at her hands. “Bailamos. You and I are going to tear this place up.”
“Oh, no,” Sookie tried to pull away modestly. “You don’t have to do that. You should dance with Lafayette.”
He clucked his tongue and jutted his chin. Sookie followed his gesture and saw Lafayette talking animatedly to a woman behind the bar.
“He met an old high school friend,” he shouted, sighing dramatically. “I lost my date. So, you’re my new partner.”
Sookie couldn’t help her watery smile. Ah, to be a gay man’s last resort. The music picked up just then, as if on cue. A salsa beat, complete with hard drums and a dirty sax that practically ordered the dancers to strip naked and fuck the stranger next to them. She closed her eyes for a second to let it in. Jesus pulled her close with a Latino’s confidence. His hands snaked around her waist and locked her hips against his. With one smooth motion, he started to sway with her.
“Come on, sexy girl,” he coaxed smilingly. “Every guy in here will be jealous of me.”
He said it to be sweet, but the word caught in Sookie’s ears. Jealous. She bit her lip, daring another sideways glance across the room. She was too far away to see the booths anymore, but it didn’t matter. She could still feel him, feel his unnaturally sharp attention following her around the room. She shook her head in anger, furious at him for confusing her so badly. She squeezed Jesus’ arms, sliding her hands up until they were around his neck.
“Okay,” she said finally. “Sounds good.”
Jesus moved with an almost vamp-like speed, swinging her around and landing them squarely back on the dance floor. “Yes!” he crowed loudly, undulating against her. “Move like you’re crazy in love with me, Sookie.”
She laughed, finding it easy to relax in his arms. With no expectations of any kind, Sookie allowed herself to melt into the hard lines of his body, their hips and bellies and chests pressed tight against each other. Jesus nudged his thigh deep between hers, making her straddle him before dipping her back and pulling her forward.
“Fresh!” she chided with scandalized eyes, slapping at him with playful prudishness.
He roared with laughter, twirling her around, then bringing her back into his arms. “You know it.”
They continued that way. Very few dancers had their skill and they stuck out quite noticeably. Jesus ate it up. Sookie blushed and smiled bashfully. She was pleasantly surprised to note that many men did indeed seem to be watching her with interest. She kept her gaze on her partner, only seeing their lecherous gazes out of the corner of her eye. Jesus knew how to show her off, sliding his hands sensuously over her back and ass, touching her like he could barely stop himself there. Sookie enjoyed the farce, batting her eyes at him, puckering her lips and blowing him kisses. It was fun. It was innocent, despite its carnal appearance. Slowly, her happiness returned, the simple pleasure of dancing making her forget the pair of eyes devouring her every move.
Sookie had no idea that much of the male appraisal in the room was vampiric. Her pleasure amplified her scent, and it wafted through a room otherwise filled with the unremarkable human smells of sweat and intoxication. The music drowned out the meaty click of fangs as they ran down around the room, forcing their owners to close their mouths and try to retract them. They sought her out, watching this pretty little creature as she danced with gusto and radiated sunshine. Several were already forming plans, some more violent then others, until one of them stepped forward and crushed all other thoughts of tasting her.
Jesus felt a hand clamp his shoulder. “Leave us.”
He stopped dancing and turned, startled to see such a tall, formidable man looming above him. “Excuse me?”
Eric didn’t even look at him, instead transfixed by his dance partner. “Step aside, human. I need to speak with Sookie.”
Sookie’s eyes widened at the interruption. Her hands tightened on Jesus’ shoulders. “No,” she said at normal volume, knowing her could hear her perfectly despite the noise. “We’re busy.”
His chilly gaze turned very, very dark at her refusal. Jesus stood taller between the two, blocking Eric from his friend. “Sorry,” he offered. “The lady says no.”
“The lady and I have business. Leave now, or I’ll drop you where you stand.”
“Goddamn you,” Sookie hissed, releasing Jesus to get in Eric’s face. “I don’t want to talk, Eric. Whatever you have to say can wait until you decide to collect your next payment.”
Bad move. The mention of their deal turned his expression stormy. He grabbed her arm and yanked her close, out of Jesus’ warm space and into his cool shadow. “Silence,” he hissed at her. “Do not talk of that here.”
Sookie was about to argue, but the vampire pulled her away.
“I’m fine!” she called over her shoulder to Jesus, who looked like he was ready to jump the much taller man. “Go home without me! I’ll see you later!”
Then he was lost to the crowd. Sookie struggled against Eric’s steely grip as he swept through the crowd with her in tow. “Let go!” she gritted, not wanting to cause a scene, but wanting him to know she meant it. He ignored her, pulling her all the way across the room and into the VIP area. He did not stop until they were in a small corner with a velvet sofa and low table in front of it. Without ceremony, Eric tossed her onto the couch, spun on his heel and yanked two heavy curtains closed around the booth, cutting them off from view. He spun again and lowered himself over her sputtering, indignant form as she pulled herself into a sitting position.
“What the fuck is your problem?” she nearly shrieked, trying to get up. He shoved her back down. Sookie cried out at the roughness of his hands against her bare shoulders and at his presumptuous manhandling.
She gasped when he fisted his hand in her hair, jerking her head up and bringing her up to his lowered face. There was no kindness in it. Fear shot through her system. He was livid. Instinctively, she shrunk back, knowing an unpredictable animal when she saw one. His voice was soft as he spoke.
“Vampires are everywhere,” he jutted his chin towards the curtain, indicating the room was filled with them. “They smell you. You’re asking to be drained, you smell so fucking good.”
“So?” she felt herself trembling in his grip and bit her lip in anger at herself. “I can take care of myself, Eric. I don’t need you babysitting me.”
Eric hissed like a snake. Christ, this girl was ridiculous. He’d sensed her from the minute she’d entered the room. She practically glowed. She was hard to miss, even for vampires who were unaware of her specialness, nevermind to a vampire hyper-tuned to her every move. It was a fucking curse. He was here for business, one of the vampires in his area owned this club and had asked for his mediation in a dispute with another vampire. Both were sitting at the table with them, sipping on their meals and growling at each other while Eric tried not roll his eyes at their petty accusations. His own meal sat untouched. The club owner had been respectful enough to offer her, and Eric had accepted her company in order to keep his host pacified, but he hadn’t so much as looked at her once she’d taken position in his lap. He’d merely noted with some annoyance that she was too tall and bony, creating a disharmony in his personal space with a body type too similar to his own. What he needed was someone smaller. Softer. Someone he could pick up and position in any which way he liked. Someone who would curl into him like a sweet little angel, sighing with pleasure as she slotted seamlessly into his bigger proportions.
Then Sookie had walked into the room.
He’d watched her down her drink. He’d watched her slip onto the dance floor. He’d watched while she arched and swayed to the music. Her movements were alluringly flirty. And her aura shimmered with a light that vampires had been deprived of since their making. Yes, she definitely glowed. The irritating argument between his peers had faded into nothing as his attention riveted to his only point of interest.
Enraged, he watched as another vampire – one he knew as a regular in Fangtasia – siddled up to her. Smirking, he put his hands on her. With that single move, Eric made the decision to kill him without even batting an eye. Once he was back at Fangtasia, he’d make the necessary arrangements for that vampire to meet with an accident. No one touched Sookie.
And she agreed. Gently but firmly, she shot the handsome stranger down. Eric smirked, seeing his failed glamor attempt. He was grateful that his fairy could not be influenced that way. Being so irresistible to his kind, she needed all the protection she could get.
He looked down at her now. Her dark eyes simmered with anger, her vulnerable form huddled away from him, slightly frightened of his harsh display. Her fear fueled his lust, making him ache to pull her close, but hee didn’t soften. She needed to understand.
“You have no idea, do you?” he accused, his other hand reaching to cup her jaw, a gentleness in it that belied the ferocity of the other in her hair. “Not all of them will ask nicely. The one who did will be punished as it is.”
Sookie squinted in surprise. “Punished? The guy on the dance floor? Why?”
Eric fought hard not to say the first thing that came to mind. You’re mine. Instead, he hedged. “A precedent must be set. In order to protect you.”
She huffed and sat backwards, pulling out of his hold. “That’s stupid. He wasn’t going to do anything. I’m fine,” she looked away, biting her lip, looking deliciously hurt. “I don’t need you.”
In a flash, Eric was seated and Sookie was straddling his lap. She gasped as he gripped her, forcing himself deep between the V of her legs, yanking her forward until their lips were almost touching.
“You don’t get it,” he whispered. “I have to bite you now. I have to keep you in here, mark you, put my scent all over you, and make it clear that you’re mine.” He spat the final word with equal parts of lust and disgust. “It’s the only way to stop them from attacking you as you leave.”
She instantly started struggling. “No!”
He held fast. “Yes,” he retorted. “You were foolish to come here.”
“Come where?” she spat, still fighting. “Out in public? Around other humans? With my friends?”
“Your friends can’t protect you,” he pointed out heatedly. His hands continued to hold hers, firm enough to still her, but gentle enough not to bruise. “You do need me, Sookie. No one can care for you as I can.”
She cried out in exasperation and went limp in his grip, sitting back on his knees in defeat. Her eyes filled with angry tears as she glared at him. He disliked being their cause.
“So what?” she asked. “What do you suggest? I just become a shut-in? Work from home? Never venture beyond my front porch? Keep my curtains drawn and hope like hell I go unnoticed by other vampires?” She shook her head. “I won’t, Eric. I’m not going to spend my entire life afraid. I’ll go crazy.”
Sookie inhaled sharply when he gripped her elbows and pulled her closer. Her heart slammed into her ribs when his lips found her throat, nuzzling with Eskimo kisses and the open press of his lips. His fangs didn’t click. His kiss didn’t complete. The nestling of his face against her couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than comfort. Her rigid muscles collapsed, her supple body molding into the planes of his chest and legs. She sniffed softly.
He held her like that for several minutes. Sookie just let her head fall onto his shoulder and let him. God, she was so tired of all of this. Why in God’s name couldn’t anything be easy for her? Her chest quivered as she stifled her tearful convulsions.
Eric nosed gently into her ear. “Don’t cry, lover. I can’t bear it when you cry.”
She sniffed anyway. “What do you want from me, Eric? I mean really. Tell me exactly what you want.”
Blood. Sex. Smiles. Heat. Obsession. Desire. Need. Greed.
His list exploded through his mind so quickly he had trouble keeping up with it. Sookie pulled back and looked him earnestly, wiping her eyes quickly with her fingertips. How could he explain? He’d seen these things in her before, only not for him.
He’d heard her heartbeat increase whenever she saw her former lover. He sensed her pleasure at his presense, just as he’d seen her agony at his abduction. She’d shared the other vampire’s bed every night, or would have, had he allowed her to stay with him. She’d offered herself, her life, her blood, her happiness. Eric knew she was capable. He answered her the only way he knew how.
“I want what you gave Bill,” he said at last.
Sookie shook her head, not understanding. “I gave Bill my heart. I loved him.” She paused when her answer met with his expectant silence. Eric merely stared. He did not correct her.
She sat back a little further. “Is that what you’re asking? You want me to love you?”
Eric’s jaw set hard. He didn’t move.
“But…” she stuttered, her eyes huge with disbelief. “You don’t care about love. Don’t even understand it. That’s what you told me, remember?”
“I remember perfectly what I told you.”
“But you still want it?” she asked timidly. “You want my love?”
His silence stretched for several seconds before he broke it. “Yes.”
Sookie fell backwards, snorting loudly. “Why? To stroke your ego? You won’t take less than what I gave Bill, even if it’s something you’re uninterested in?”
“Ego doesn’t motivate me.”
“Pride, then. Or boredom. Something motivates you, Eric. Why else would you want my heart?”
Eric looked away. He wished he knew. It wasn’t for any of the reasons she’d listed, but he couldn’t identify why it was so important for Sookie to care for him with the same degree of devotion he’d seen her lavish on Bill. All he knew was that there was a sucking, aching hole in his chest where his heart and lungs used to be. He hadn’t needed them for a thousand years, yet now he felt breathless. Like he suddenly needed air again. Needed blood to pump through his body again.
“I want your heart,” he rasped darkly, “because you’ve stolen mine. I demand you replace it with your own.”
Her mouth dropped slightly at his admission. “But I didn’t -,”
“You did,” he cut her off. “You took it from me. Now when I imagine us, I don’t simply fuck you. Or taste you. I hold you. I pet you. I desire your affection and feel pleasure when you grant it.” His explanation came in slow, uncertain halts. “Sookie,” he looked at her, “I need your love. My chest feels crushed without it.”
She didn’t move. Were it not for her blinking eyes, she could well have been a statue. He couldn’t be serious. Unconsciously, Sookie moved in close and put her hand on his cheek, looking for the physical contact that always gave her so much more clarity with human minds. She heard nothing. Naturally. It didn’t stop her from drilling him with her warm brown eyes, diving headlong into his glacial stare, wordlessly demanding if he was sincere.
His gaze flickered slightly at the feel of her warmth against his face. The house music, though muted by the thick curtains, was still too loud for her to pick up the soothed purr that emanated from his body, but she felt it vibrating softly against the length of their pressed bodies. She bit her lips to hide her pleasure as she continued to gape in disbelief.
Finally, she whispered. “I’m going to ask you a question. If you lie to me…or bullshit me…I’m going to walk out onto the dance floor, grab the first vampire I detect,” she tapped her temple, “and let him bite me in front of everyone. Got it?”
Eric’s purr went choppy, his more violent growl taking over. He didn’t speak.
Sookie nodded with approval. He wasn’t arguing. Her other hand came to rest on his cheek, holding his face in the cup of her palms. He couldn’t escape when she asked, “Are you in love with me?”
Eric flinched beneath her. Sookie held her breath and held his gaze, even though the desire to look away was overwhelming. As always, his face betrayed nothing. If anything, it went even stonier. She felt the ropes of his jaw muscles saw back and forth under her hands. She kept her face soft and seeking, sweeping her thumbs briefly under his eyes, as if they could coax him to speak.
“There’s a snowball’s chance in hell that I’ll agree to be yours, Eric. But the only way it’s ever going to happen is if you tell me the truth.”
Her fingertips traced the soft skin of his ears without her even noticing. Being so close to him, she saw the indigo flecks scattered in his otherwise sky blue eyes. Was it really possible that these cold eyes felt love when they looked at her?
Eric also noted that Sookie’s eyes swirled with several shades of rich chocolate. He felt naked under their scrutiny, as if her telepathic talents had suddenly found a way into his mind. Indignation bubbled hotly within him. His own emotions weren’t important. Only his needs. Only his desires. Humans had no right to ask such things. Sookie had no right. Just as she had no right to threaten him with the prospect of her offering herself to another vampire. The thought of another’s mark on her maddened him worse than anything he had ever experienced. But she meant it. Looking at her now, he knew she’d get up and go do something stupid, just to prove her trivial point.
Sookie sensed his indecision. Feeling desperate and exposed, she prodded softly, “You once said you disliked being touched. When you imagine us together, am I strung up in your basement? Naked and chained while you pound out your frustration?”
She had hated what she’d seen when she’d walked in on Eric fucking Yvetta, not only because it had tickled a very small jealous bone, but also because Sookie had saddened at Eric’s notion of making love. What she’d seen was cold and objectifying. He could have been fucking a side of beef hung in a slaughterhouse, for all the sweetness she’d felt from him that night. It had bruised her already blue heart.
Eric’s eyes snapped at the question. “Never,” he gritted fiercely.
She waited. “What do you imagine?”
On the subject of sex, Eric was suddenly much more loquacious. “You’re in my bed,” he said immediately. “Or yours. Or my cubby. I spend hours learning every inch of you. And I demand you do the same to me. After we’ve made love the entire night, you fall asleep next to me. I despise the thought of you leaving my bed, so I forbid it. You stay in my arms. When I buy you gifts, you’re pleased with them. You allow me to spoil you. And when you’re feeling especially grateful,” his fangs ran down, “you drop to your knees and show me how happy I’ve made you.”
Sookie inhaled slowly. That certainly was in keeping with a man in love. She felt compelled to keep prodding. “Do you always heal your feeding marks? Like me and the woman in the booth just now?”
Two cool hands tugged her even closer to him, cupping her hips in a steely grasp. “Never,” he repeated. “I do not heal my meals, Sookie, nor did I do so tonight.”
“She didn’t have a bite mark.”
“That’s because I didn’t taste her, lover.”
She tightened her grip on his head. God alive, she wished more than ever she could read his mind. “Why not?”
He snorted like the answer should be obvious. “I didn’t want her. I don’t want any of them.”
“Then what the hell have you been eating these three days?”
Resentment flashed across his face. More questions that had no right being asked. “I have not fed.”
And there it was.
The air in the curtained space felt humid and stifling. The light was too dim. Eric’s body felt too cool and comfortable. Sookie’s body felt too soft and sweet. Sookie noticed that his hands fit the curve of her hips perfectly, as if he’d been made just to hold her. Eric pulled a long breath through his nose, inhaling the essence of vampire temptation as she stared at him from her perch on his legs.
Sookie considered long and hard. This was getting ridiculous.
He wanted sex. Okay. He wanted blood. No duh. But the other stuff? The stuff that had her heart leaping in her chest like a panicked bird? She didn’t know what to say. He wanted her touch, despite his claim otherwise. He wanted her company, despite his blatant preference for solitude. And, against everything she understood about his character, he seemed to be unintentionally exclusive to her.
An answer came to her, so soft and watery that it barely made itself known over the oily heat of the club. Sookie made a decision. It scared her to death, but as far as she could see, it was the only option that satisfied her fears and her desires. She held her head high. Eric followed the line of her jaw, noticing her change in posture. The flicker in his eyes asked her silently for her thoughts.
She didn’t answer. Instead, she brought his face to the hallow of her throat.
“Drink, please,” she said softly.
“No,” he replied instantly. “I won’t cheapen this by tasting you here.”
She could hear his disgust for their surroundings and melted a little. He clearly valued their intimacy, even though he hadn’t eaten in three days and was probably ravenous. In this new position, she leaned into him, her hands sliding over his shoulders and arms in a way they hadn’t done since their kiss in his office over a year ago.
“I’ve missed you,” she admitted, swallowing her pride. “I’ve missed this. Please drink from me. Show me that you’ve missed it, too.”
Eric wasn’t sure what to make of her sudden change in tactics. All he knew was that it drove him crazy. Her acceptance of him had turned her body into the sleek puzzle piece he knew it would be, filling into him with a perfection he would have never believed existed. Her scent surrounded him, her pulse ticking away just under his mouth. As usual, she was willing, but this time she appeared to be offering something else besides food to him. He didn’t dare question what it might be, he simply took it.
Wrapping his arms around her back, he eased her forward until she was almost laying across his entire front. Once they were nearly prone on the sofa, his feet planted firmly on the floor, he tugged her ponytail, flipping it playfully away from his target. He licked a slow, wet line from her shoulder to her ear. The coolness of his saliva made her moan softly. God, he felt so fucking good.
Her moan increased in volume when he bit down. Sookie strained downwards, pitching into any of him she could reach.
Gently, she opened another button of his shirt, her hands trespassing onto his skin. They slid around to his nape, toying with the soft, short hair. More coolness met her hands, a delicious contrast to the hot, sticky air around her. With hesitant strokes, she began to tease her fingers through his hair. He dreamt of her touching him. It was time to find out how.
He grunted in approval, burrowing deeper into her throat.
Sookie nodded carefully, not letting her movement upset his latch on her. With quivering nerves, she slowly slid her knees back and forth on either side of his hips, creating a slow drag in friction that provoked his grip, turning it even more possessive and sexual around her back.
“Like this?” she whispered.
He was growing warm again. More than that, he was growing hard. His erection pressed hotly between her thighs, straining to reach her through two sets of clothes. Sookie knew she was no better off. She’d been wet since the moment she’d seen him across the dance floor. She’d hated to think that he’d known she wanted him the entire time they’d been fighting, but now, she gently opened her legs wider around him, hoping the scent of her reached his unnaturally keen nose. There was no point hiding it. Might as well advertise.
With a final, steeling breath, Sookie pressed a light kiss into the rim of his ear and whispered, “I don’t know either, Eric. I don’t know if I could love you.”
The suction at her throat stopped.
She waited for him to disengage and start another heated discussion. She felt his urge to do so. But he didn’t. Instead, his nursing resumed, pulling long, deep drags of her into himself.
Her hands never stilled, stroking deep into his hair, communicating her acceptance and her pleasure. A stray strand tickled her nose slightly. Facing him while feeding was certainly more personal. She knew this was how they would spend their final session together when he came to collect number five. She knew this, because of her decision.
“Next time,” she whispered. “Next time you come to me…the last time you feed? I…” she swallowed again, her voice suddenly failing her. “I need to find out. I…want…I want to make love to you.”
The suction stopped and broke entirely.
Eric took a ragged, unneeded gasp of air. It was a wet sound, drenched in blood. He immediately latched to her again to stop the flow, swiping the marks to staunch them. Grabbing her shoulders, he yanked her away from his ear.
Blood covered his lips and teeth as he bared them menacingly at her. She didn’t flinch, her face still soft and her eyes wide. “I’m tired of fighting this, Eric. Of fighting you. Aren’t you tired, too? Tired of pretending that I’m an exotic pet that you’re fond of? Like a lion fish or a sugar baby or something? Don’t you think it’s time we try something a little more meaningful?”
“And you believe this meaningful step should be sex?”
“Well,” she looked down humbly. “It would certainly be meaningful to me.” She paused and looked at him, those warm eyes chipping at his precious control. “Would making love to me not mean anything to you? Is sex just fucking, no matter who?”
Eric growled and bucked up into her in pure masculine answer to her question. “It would mean a great deal, Sookie. You know it would.”
She shivered slightly, hope battling wildly against doubt. “Then you agree?”
“To make love to you as I taste you? Did you honestly expect a no?”
“No,” she blushed and kept her eyes down. “But I mean it, Eric. I want you to answer me honestly afterwards. Tell me how you feel. I’ll…I’ll do the same. If it’s more than just blood and lust between us…” she bit her lips, “…then I think we need to rethink our relationship.”
Eric reached out and tipped her chin, bringing her eyes up. It took everything he had not to collect her offer right there on the club sofa. “And if there’s more?” he pressed. “If we make love and decide we cannot be apart?”
She knew what he wanted to hear. Leave it to a vampire to boil it down to the nuts and bolts. “Then you win. I’ll agree to be yours. Only yours.”
Sookie shrieked as she was pulled down with a vampire’s speed, Eric buried deep in her neck. She gasped when she felt his fang slice his tongue, which he then ran across her bite mark. His hands, which had barely been civil for the last week, were suddenly unchained, moving over her body with a sensual indecency that had her whimpering against his cheek.
“Tomorrow,” he demanded hotly. “Tomorrow, and make no mistake, Sookie…I’m coming for you.”
She nodded weakly. “Okay.”
He pulled back, his bite gone from her throat. He shook her gently, insisting she heed every word. “By the end of the night, lover, you’ll never want to leave my side again.”