“Fuck, this is bad.”
“Shut up. Just keep your shit together. We still have a job to do.”
“But we’re too late! You saw it. Fuck, you can smell it.”
“Not our problem. We were told to get her. We got her. They’re going to pay us, goddammit, I don’t care if she’s damaged goods. Just…put a scarf around it or something.”
In the depths of some cold black hole I was unconsciously swimming through, I felt someone grab me by the hair and yank my head up. I moaned as my kinked muscles shrieked in annoyance. A rough piece of material was threaded under my neck and tied in a knot under my jaw. My head fell back down onto a hard, corrugated surface. The throb of an engine vibrated underneath. I was moving. Moving?
“It won’t make a difference,” the first voice whined. “You can smell him on her from a mile away.”
The second, harsher voice replied, “I said shut the fuck up!”
“Eric,” I groaned quietly. Where was he? What the hell was going on?
“Fuck!” the second voice cursed again. “Give her more. Don’t let her summon him.”
A rag was shoved into my nose. It reeked of ether-like fumes and I struggled against my bound hands and legs to escape it. “Eric!” I coughed into it. I tried to make my mushy thoughts focus on him. The voice was right. Eric could find me more easily if I was awake enough to tap our bond and call him. The rag was pushed harder into my face. It was no use. My eyes watered and my mind went dim.
I blacked out.
I woke up on a hard floor. Everything hurt. I groaned in pain, my arms and legs wailed from a lack of circulation as I pulled at them. They were tied up tightly, my arms especially. They felt smothered and hot, and it took me a moment to realize that I wasn’t just tied up, I was in some kind of straight jacket. I tried to open my eyes as I squirmed on the freezing tiles beneath me. I heard muffled voices above me. One was extremely pissed off. The other two were whiny and full of explanations.
I blinked. Everything was extremely bright and blurry. Through red, swollen eyes, I looked up, trying to see who was talking.
A woman’s voice, the angry voice, didn’t seem to notice. “Did you think you could fool me? That you could just but a BandAid over it and I’d be none the wiser? You fucking idiots! She’s been bonded! Any vampire can tell!”
I recognized one of the whiny voices from before. “Look, it’s not our fault. You said to get her, so here she fucking is. So who cares if Northman claimed her? She’s yours now.”
The woman bent down to me. I caught a glimpse of fiery red hair before I was jerked up by my own ponytail. I screamed hoarsely as she shook me at the others. “Claimed? You think this is just a fucking claim? He’s bonded to her, you stupid little dog! She’s useless to me now!”
She dropped me. Without my arms to catch me, I fell hard onto my side, the air rushing out of my lungs on impact. I felt someone jerk the makeshift scarf off my neck. With as much strength as I could muster, I jutted my throat out, displaying my treasured bite to everyone standing around me.
“Eric!” I shouted groggily.
I was calling for him, sure. But I was also flipping this woman the verbal finger. Whoever she was, she was right about one thing. If she was here to claim me, she was a day late and a few dollars short. This was Eric’s mark on my neck and Eric’s blood in my veins. I was his. Fuck this redheaded bitch.
My vision was clearing up. I could make out two dark haired men and a beautiful, pale woman above me. We were in some kind of indoor tanning salon, or so it looked like. Extremely bright light, white walls, high ceilings, and…were those palm trees in pots?
“Who the fuck are you?” I mumbled at her.
She glared down at me. Her flawless features were coiled up into an ugly mask of rage. Her pastel, gauzy dress looked ridiculous when paired with such a monstrous face. She sneered at me. “Watch your mouth or I’ll drain you where you lay.”
I coughed and tried to sit up, but the jacket wouldn’t let me. I fought it fruitlessly and cursed. All of those hours Eric had spent with me that day, helping me hone my skills, all for nothing. My hands were bound tightly into my sides. I couldn’t shoot. I never even saw what hit me. One minute, I’d been exiting the ladies’ room at Fangtasia, the next minute, someone grabbed me from behind and shoved chloroform (I assumed) into my face. Shocked, I’d inhaled without thinking. I’d only put up the tiniest struggle before the drug did its job. I was in a truck, barely conscious of two idiots arguing, before I realized I’d been kidnapped right from under Eric’s nose.
The worst had happened. I looked up and made the obvious guess. “You’re Sophie Anne, aren’t you? You’re the bitch who sent Bill after me and thinks I’m a fairy, right?”
She pulled a knife out of nowhere and leaned down to cut my leg ropes free. “Thinks you’re a fairy, Sookie? Come now,” she replied acidly, “Let’s not play coy.”
She knelt next to me and grabbed my chin, forcing my head up to meet her icy gaze. “You are Fae. Partly, anyway. Under the Sheriff’s stink, I can smell you. Your essence is nothing but sweetness and sunshine.”
I scoffed, not backing away from her snarling closeness. “Too bad you didn’t pull this caper a week ago.” I laughed and she slammed me into the tiles. My head exploded with pain. Still, I managed to keep chuckling. I was wide awake now. I was injured and a little bit scared. And I was broadcasting like nobody’s business. Eric would come now. I was a pulsing beacon of damsel in distress.
“Too bad I had the hots for Eric, huh? You might have had a shot if I hadn’t been so eager to tear his clothes off.”
Instead of pissing her off more, she laughed sardonically. “I couldn’t give a damn that you fucked him. Hell I’d have let you fuck anyone you wanted.” She reached down and grabbed my hair again. Jesus, I hated women who were hair-pullers. She smiled with no warmth. “But he’s bonded to you when he knew you were spoken for. That makes him a very bad boy.”
I smiled right back. “Why? Cuz you had dibs? Please.”
She shook me by the scruff like a dog, my lack of fear irritating her.
I pushed her further. “Beautiful place,” I looked around admiringly. “Fleeing authority clearly hasn’t cramped your style. Are you squatting? Or did you just eat the owner?”
She tossed me to the ground again. I spat at her feet in disgust. “You’re no queen. You’re a joke in a plastic tiara.”
“Shut up, human.”
“Or what?” I goaded. “You’ll kill me? Drink all my tinkerbell blood and dance a jig in the sunlight? Be my guest. Edgington did. You should have seen him. Looked like a charcoal pit after just five minutes.”
“Liar!” she roared at me. “You are a fairy! You can bestow daywalking! I’ve read it! I’ve heard it!”
The desperation in her voice made me warm with malice. I chortled at its shrieky edge. “Oh, well then it must be true. I am a fairy. I shrink to the size of a thimble and ride a dragonfly. And my blood is SPF 3000. You just go right ahead and take a sip, then go meet the sun. Take a parasol.”
She slapped me. It hurt. My head snapped to one side. I snapped it right back and glared at her. “He’s coming,” I hissed at her triumphantly. “He’s coming and when he gets here, you’re gonna be in so much trouble.”
“I’ll kill him.”
“You’ll try,” I goaded. “But he’s bigger, and stronger, and so very much older.” My words dripped like honey as I described my beautiful defender. “And most of all, he is really pissed off.”
I sat up. It took a lot, but I managed. I was finally able to take in my surroundings. The two dark haired men stood to the side, watching us intently. I knew now that they were some of her weres. I looked around the art deco furnishings and found two of her dwindling counterfeit court standing submissively on the far side of the room. One of them shocked me. The other infuriated me.
I ignored Bill completely. The were in Eric’s basement had said that he’d be with her. His downturned head and furtive gaze at me confirmed every bad thing I’d thought about him since that fateful night when Eric had revealed Bill’s true motives. I had nothing to say to him. The other person had my eyebrows in my hairline.
“Hadley? What the hell are you doin’ here?”
My cousin looked guiltily across the expanse of glaring white and bit her lips anxiously. “Sookie,” she breathed. “Sookie, I’m so sorry. I tried to tell you, I -,”
“Silence, Hadley.” The queen’s voice took a softer tone as she addressed my kin. She turned to look at her. “You needn’t explain yourself.”
Hadley bit her lips again and looked away.
Bill couldn’t take his eyes off me. Their beaten, pleading expression made my lip curl. I looked back up at the queen, wanting to look anywhere else than at him, but he called to me. “Sookie.” His drawl implored me. I used to love his antebellum accent. Now it just got under my skin. I ignored him. “Sookie,” he repeated louder. “Please, I -,”
“Are we done here?” I asked Sophie Anne. “I understand why you took me, but like you say, I’m already bonded to another. Can we just call it even? I want to go home now.”
I knew it was a fool’s request. Still, it seemed fair to ask, plus I wanted a reason to make Bill stop talking.
She snorted and snapped her fingers at Bill. “Take her. Get her out of my sight. I need to think.”
I immediately started to struggle against the jacket. “Hell, no!” I leveled my hatred right at him as he took a hesitant step in my direction. “You stay the fuck away from me.”
“Sookie, please. Just let me -.”
No. No no no no no no!
I closed my eyes and shrieked. “ERRRIC!”
His name filled the cavernous room and bounced off the marble and ceramic surfaces. Bill froze. His expression hardened. I didn’t give a shit. I screamed it again, glorying in the sound. Bill and Sophie Anne and the Authority could all go to hell. I was saying the only name in the world that mattered to me anymore. I hated Bill’s weakness. I hated Hadley’s involvement, whatever it was. Right now I needed someone on my side. Someone with balls. His eyes glowed in my mind, blue and furious and glinting with power. Fearless, Claudine had called him. I called to him now. It thundered around us until Sophie Anne bent and slapped me again. I stopped screaming, but the echo continued for a few seconds more.
She turned to Bill expectantly. “I said remove her. Take her to the guestroom.”
I stared daggers at him as he approached. He skulked forward, obeying, but at the same time, unhappy about it.
He is indecisive.
I snorted at Claudine’s incisiveness. I had thought she was being nitpicky at the time. Now I realized she was absolutely right. It was one of his most crippling faults. Either be a two-faced bastard or don’t. But for God’ sake, stop half-assing.
He reached down and pulled me to my feet with too much kindness. I turned my gaze back to the sad little queen. “Pathetic,” I denounced her.
She dropped her fangs and darted into my face, hissing. “Insult me again and I’ll skin you into a purse.”
“Christ, even your threats are tacky.”
She shoved me into Bill’s arms. “Take her now.”
The good little errand boy, he did as he was told, leading me with a gentleman’s softness out of the room. “You’re foolish to anger her,” he muttered.
“Fuck you,” I answered at normal volume. I wouldn’t have him whispering to me like we were in cahoots together. I had absolutely nothing to say to him.
He grunted in annoyance and led me down a lavish hallway and through several large rooms. This house had all the budgetary allowance of Eric’s home, but none of his elegance. It was just like the queen. Tacky. Over the top and dripping with proof that money couldn’t buy taste. Giant oil paintings of cherubs, enormous vases ornately carved, red satin wallpaper, fleur-de-lis all over the place, gilded everything, plush white carpet that dirtied under even the cleanest shoes, heavy mahogany furniture that suffocated even the most spacious rooms. Was that a Fabergé eg g collection on the mantle? Christ. This place reminded me of what Lafayette might build if he won the lottery. Except Lafayette would be the first to admit that his taste was ghetto fab. Sophie Anne, I doubted, had any such sense of humor. It was clear from her mannerisms that she thought she was high class.
Bill escorted me into one such room and followed me in, closing the door swiftly behind him. I shuffled angrily, my arms bound tight against my sides.
“Get out,” I growled. “Lock me in or whatever, just get out.”
He turned to me, his hands out in supplication. “You need to listen to me.”
“I really, really don’t.”
Hands still out, he sidestepped me and walked across the room to a huge desk, adorned with faux intellect paraphernalia: quill pens, ink wells, a strategically aged atlas, and one of those vintage green desk lamps. Double Christ. He picked up an ancient book from its ledge and turned back to me, holding it out.
“This. This is why you’re here.”
Brows raised, I said nothing.
He went to the bed and sat down, opening the book gingerly, wincing as the plain, brown binding cracked in protest. “Please, Sookie. Be as angry as you want with me, but you need to read this. You need to understand what she suspects.”
“I know what she suspects,” I replied. “Why haven’t you explained to her that my blood won’t protect her?”
He eyed me impatiently. “Because this book is the Tome of Fae. I took it from her room to show you. It clarifies what is actually needed from a fairy for a vampire to walk in the sun.”
I froze. My heart froze as well. “What?”
He looked down, located a passage and pointed to it. “This. This book started everything. It’s the whole reason the queen wants you. In it, much of the Fae world is explained. More specifically, why she thinks she can day walk.”
“What does it say about it?”
He looked up. “That more than blood is needed.”
That was enough to make me forget my anger. I took a step towards the book, looking at it with fearful eyes. It looked battered and forgotten, this old book. The opened page was heavily stained, the edges torn and moth-eaten. “More of what, Bill? What does it say?”
Gratified to have my attention, he relaxed and continued. “It’s hard to say. The tome is ancient. Its English is dated and ambiguous. But it’s clear about one thing; consent plays a major part in the process.”
I clenched my teeth, refusing to utter a single peep. Bill looked at me expectantly. I looked past his gaze and moved opposite him, looking down at the weathered pages. Its script was handwritten, its loopy, artistic lines reminding me a bit of Eric’s antique penmanship. A ghost of a smile hinted on my lips. Bill’s expression became hopeful and I immediately buried it. My smile was not for him.
I sat down as far away from him as possible while still about to make out the words between us. I sat down awkwardly, holding myself upright without the benefit of my arms. I leaned down gingerly and stared. A tome of my people. After all these years of my unexplained abilities, it was like finding a manual for my own life. I wondered if it covered telepathy. And my energy ball thingies. My bond to Eric. My hybrid status. Everything else I’d yet to discover, and they’d chosen not to explain to me in Faery during my stay.
“Where did she get this?”
He shook his head. “I do not know. But she’s poured over it for hours, memorizing it. After Hadley innocently described you to her, she obtained this book and became an expert. She suspected what you might be and wanted to learn all there was to know about the Fae.”
The page he had turned to seemed to be referring to the mating bond. It didn’t mention day walking, per se, but it hinted that bonding to a Fae would equip the recipient with varying gifts, depending on their mortal or supernatural makeup. I squinted and lowered my head, quickly losing myself. Bill was right. The language was difficult to decipher, and the meaning was bogged down in innuendo and prose.
I didn’t notice when Bill leaned closer, inhaling the scent of my hair. He shuddered violently. “You smell of him,” he growled in disgust.
I didn’t even look up. “I should,” I mumbled distractedly. “I fed him earlier.”
He snorted in disgust. “You smell of more than blood.”
I snorted right back. “I fucked him earlier, too.”
“Oh, Sookie. How could you?”
At his revulsion, I finally spared him a glance. “Seriously? You wanna have this conversation?”
His eyes creased heavily with pain. “I can’t believe you’d let him defile you this way. For God’s sake, Sookie. It’s Eric! The vampire you despised above all others!”
“You’re right. I was stupid about a lot of things, wasn’t I?”
“Whatever you might think of me, you didn’t have to demean yourself by accepting his bond. Now you’re his whore, Sookie. Forever!”
“Damn right, I am. I’m also his goddess. I’m his whole fucking religion. You treated me like a lady, Bill, and that was sweet of you, but only Eric can make me feel like a deity and a spectacular fuck at the same time.”
I knew I was being cruel. I didn’t care.
Bill made his bed and he could damn well sleep in it. The fact that he misunderstood my love for Eric only incited me further. As usual, he was underestimating me. To him, I’d always be an innocent little girl, incapable of holding my own in this big, bad world. My heart sang around my bond with Eric. He never underestimated me. He lauded my gifts and my courage. He encouraged my defiance, unlike Bill who constantly shushed me like a child. Eric used his body to shield me from harm many times, but never once did he shield me from knowledge. He understood that to educate me was to arm me. I was not his dependent. I was his equal.
I looked squarely at Bill’s ashen expression. “I love him.”
“He only wants your blood!”
“He wants a lot more than that.”
“I love you, Sookie. I never wanted to lose you like this.”
“Oh, don’t gimme that shit. If you wanted me so bad, you would have blood bonded to me, not given me an engagement ring. You wanted me, but you feared the queen more. You gave her the opportunity to take me from you. With your bond, I would have been safe from her. The king, too. But you were too chickenshit, weren’t you? You were terrified of what would happen if you defied them like that. So you offer me a ring that means nothing in your world and just hoped for the best.”
“Sookie, please. You don’t understand. A blood bond is-,”
“What, Bill? A blood bond is what?”
“Of for fuck’s sa-,” I cut myself off and stood up. “Get out. Leave the book and just get out.”
“Sookie, please.” He rose from the bed, reaching for me.
“No!” I screamed at him, pushing away as best I could. “I’m sicka hearing my name! I’m sicka your pleases and sorries! I’m sicka your voice, Bill! Just go!”
Anger rose slightly in features, but not enough to erase his hesitation. His head dropped and he looked sheepishly at the door. “I will figure out a way to rescue you from this place.”
I chuckled and swooped towards the book again, already finished with this discussion. “Don’t bother. Eric is coming.”
I heard his teeth click down in anger at my words. I didn’t look up.
“This house is in Hadley’s name,” he growled. “He will not breach it unless she invites him in. He will be taken prisoner when he tries.”
This information irritated me, but I shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “Tell Hadley she needs to redecorate. This place tries too hard.”
I heard him grunt and turn towards the door. When he opened it, he stopped and asked, “Is he good to you, Sookie?”
I looked up to find him staring at me with miserable longing. My featured softened. I nodded. “Yes, Bill. He’s good to me. You may not believe it, but he loves me. Our bond fills me with it.”
Pain cracked wide in his blue eyes and a single drop of blood pooled in one corner. Maybe it really was a shame he never bonded to me. Without it, I would never know if Bill’s affection for me was genuine. He seemed to regret it now. He nodded back, stepped out, and shut the door behind him.
I slid to the floor on my knees. I was easier on my back, instead of hovering over the book sideways. Looking at its vulnerable state in front of me, part of me screamed to destroy it. Just tear it apart with my teeth until it was shreds on the carpet. Then no one would ever have the ability to learn my secrets ever again. My mouth itched to open and do just that. But looking at the bond passage, I found it was impossible. For one thing, it was too late to save me from the queen. She’d already memorized it, according to Bill. But more than that, this book was a piece of my history. To destroy it without even reading it was stupidly impulsive. Lord knows what it could teach me. I needed it. Like Eric, the book could educate and thus arm me against future attacks. I’d already learned that ignorance was a fatal indulgence.
I reread the passages that Bill had pointed out. It spoke vaguely of our Bond. I bit my lip.
To Bonde of Fae is eternal.
The transfer of Power,
The exchange of Wills.
Give thyself to Fae and gain.
There were more mentions, but they didn’t go into any useful detail. This particular text is probably what got the queen all riled up. As I reread it for the third and fourth time, I realized with immense relief that the queen was misinterpreting it.
Yes, she could gain the gift of day walking from me and yes, she needed my consent – my will – for that to happen, but she was enraged about the wrong bond. It was Eric’s bite that she’d brandished to the weres, and Eric’s scent that she mourned over. She clearly didn’t understand that the book was referring to a Fae bond, not a vampiric one. She probably had no idea such a thing even existed. And rightly so. I knew the Fae were pathologically secretive, and Claudine had made it clear that my bond to a vampire was the first of its kind. The transfer of Power was my Light, not Eric’s blood.
I sighed shakily. It wasn’t much, but it was something. It didn’t change my situation, but any errors she made would surely help us later on. If she spent all her time wailing over my vampire possessor, she’d completely overlook my empowering Fae claim on Eric. And if she couldn’t figure out how to wield me, that was an opportunity for me to escape. Or be rescued. The point was, she needed my will, so she’d have to be nice until she figured out a new plan of action.
I nosed the page, turning it carefully to the next. It fluttered and settled.
The Scion, it read.
My brows scrunched as I read.
Of Bonde unique cometh the Scion. Prophesied of Fae, Augury of the invisible world.
The Omen of Amalgamation, the twist, the deed of Equalibrium
Of beating hearts twain, come one. From the once, come thrice.
Hmmm. I nosed under the second page and turned it as well. I wasn’t sure what it was talking about, but luckily it didn’t sound particularly relevant. Beating hearts twain certainly didn’t describe me and Eric, since his heart didn’t beat at all. I needed to use the time I had and learn only what would help me against whatever the queen was cooking up. The next page seemed to be describing my Light.
I hunkered down and started arming myself.