I kept her finger in my mouth. I needed it. I needed it like a goddamn baby needed a pacifier.
I lifted her swept-up body higher, closer to my face. Still sucking on the tiny creek of her blood, I buried my head into her stomach and inhaled raggedly. The scent of fear and perfection filled my sinuses. It was the scent of Sookie, alive in her human-fairy form. I released the useless air in my lungs and inhaled again. And again. I was snorting her, as avidly as humans snorted cocaine.
Sookie tried to pull her finger from me, probably to touch me in comfort. I growled reprimandingly. “Mine,” I grumbled, sucking harder.
I felt her urgent soothes, her other hand buried deep in my hair. “Eric,” she whispered. “It’s okay. I’m okay. Honest.”
“Silence,” I muttered, and continued to gorge on her taste and scent, reveling in the proof that she was alive and undamaged. No one had touched her. Nothing had hurt her. No vampire had taken her blood and no male had forced himself on her. All I could detect were contact scents. Sophie Anne, Compton, two weres and her vampire guard. I could smell their hands on her skin. Just for that, I would have ended them. The fact that all of them were complicit in her near violation and turning, I mourned that their ends had been so quick and merciful.
For attempting to turn my woman, their deaths would have drawn out for weeks at my hand.
Alas, they’d only paid a fraction of what they owed. Pity.
I quickly forgot them and continued to rub my face along the front of her yellow dress. Her head tipped back as I dragged my cheek onto her bare chest. Her silky skin slid under mine and I groaned.
I refused to think about how close I came to losing the warm, angelic feel of her bare body against mine. How close I came to losing everything.
“Forgive me,” I repeated to her. “I did not anticipate her move. I should have. I was remiss to leave you alone.”
“Hush,” she drew the word out in her sweet, lazy drawl. “I’m the one who didn’t react in time. I should have been watching. I should have shot them across your bar and into your damn lap. You wouldn’t have even had to get up to take care of them if I’d been more careful.”
I dug my fingers into her flesh through her clothes. It might have hurt her slightly, but I didn’t care. I needed to feel her, right down to the curve of her bones. I closed my eyes and let the massive rupture in my soul slowly knit back together as her presence healed me. In the last thousand years, my heart hadn’t beat, except for the half dozen times Sookie had electrified it back to momentary life. It didn’t beat now. But it squeezed. The pressure around that dead organ had me gasping as it threatened not to pump, but to collapse.
Such was her power over me.
I lowered her in my arms to look at her. Her head was craned to the side. The slaughter around us made her shiver with disgust and sadness. The angle gave me a perfect view of her unblemished throat where the queen had attacked. I couldn’t spare a hand to trace its loveliness, so I nuzzled just below her ear.
“How did you deflect her bite, lover?”
She turned her head into mine, caressing my forehead with her cheek as I continued to nudge her gently, reaffirming again and again that she hadn’t been defiled.
Her arms slid from my neck to the back of my head, urging me on. “I don’t know,” she murmured into my hair. “I just thought about you. How she had no right. That I belonged to myself and to you and she wasn’t allowed to touch what wasn’t hers.”
“Many victims have thought such things at their deaths. It has never saved anyone as it just saved you.”
“I know. I wasn’t expecting it to save me. It was just the truth. She…she didn’t have my permission.”
Despite the sobered circumstances, I chuckled dryly against her. “My self-righteous little Fae.”
“You didn’t consent to it, either.”
“Damn fucking right, I didn’t.”
“Then shut up, mister. I’m not even the most self-righteous person in this hug.”
I chuckled deeper and took another deep drag of her skin. I felt a powerful, ridiculous urge to lift her up and wrap her completely around my head, smothering my senses with her. I refrained. Now was not the time to lose myself in her.
Soft footsteps were approaching.
Snarling, I dropped Sookie to her feet and stood between her and the door she had entered. The steps were making their way towards this room. My fangs clicked. My lips pulled back. I hissed loudly, ready to decapitate whatever dared to advance.
“Eric, what- ?”
I tossed my hand behind me. “Ssshh.”
Sookie obeyed and quieted, though I sensed her peeking around my arm to see what I was reacting to.
“Keep back,” I rasped. “Ready yourself, but stay where you are.”
The composition of the air changed as Sookie’s Light flowed into her hands. Once again, I felt the heat of anger emanating from her. My bloodlust mixed with my sexual lust as my warrior woman armed herself at my side. Magnificent creature. I gloried in my possession of such a unique and powerful mate as she stood ready to fight.
Standing tall and furious, I prepared to tear my opponent’s throat out. Until the opponent spoke.
The soft voice of a frightened human filled the dark hallway. The warble of her Southern accent was slivered with fear. As she moved into the light, my fangs stayed out.
“Hadley,” Sookie breathed out in relief. She made to walk around me to get to her cousin. I cut her off, snarling deeply at the queen’s pet. I’d already seen this girl. Once the weres had transferred me from their net into chains, they’d marched me up to the house and handed me over to the queen. Hadley had been summoned to the door. “Invite him,” the queen had clipped. Staring at the floor, that same sad, frightened voice had whispered, “You’re welcome in my home, Eric Northman.”
The protective glow around the house had disappeared. I was dragged into this ridiculous room to watch that whore drain my beloved and turn her into a child of darkness.
Hadley had conveniently disappeared for that crime against her own kin. Now she stood before me.
Sookie huffed in exasperation. “Eric! It’s just-”
“I know who she is,” I replied, never taking my eyes off the cowering girl as she shakily edged further into the room. “I said don’t move.”
Sookie’s Light extinguished and the atmosphere lost its magical aura. I regretted it. I enjoyed the way its pulse made me burn for blood and sex. Sookie’s Light, be it love or weaponry, made me think of sunshine and destruction and the way her lush hips filled my hands as I took her on soft grass. Its extringuishment saddened me. But it did not diminish my fury.
“Eric, honestly. Hadley’s not going to hurt us.”
The woman in question had her head bowed to me in total submissive fear. “I’m sorry,” she murmured, her hands wringing the front of her short little skirt. “I never wanted any of this.”
“Fuck what you want,” I hissed at her. “This is what you’ve chosen.”
“Eric!” Sookie pushed past me and wrapped her arms around Hadley. “She’s not our enemy.”
“She is responsible for your exposure and she did nothing to stop any of this. How is she not?” I allowed Sookie her attentions to her cousin, but didn’t retract my fangs. Hadley stood timidly against Sookie, letting my Fae shield her from me.
“I’m sorry,” she bleated again. I hated the whine of her tone. “I couldn’t have stopped her. She promised she’d never do anything to hurt Sookie. She said she was just curious.”
“Stupid girl,” I spat. “I should kill you where you stand.”
“I said that’s enough,” Sookie said sternly, holding Hadley away from me. “She couldn’t have known.” She turned to Hadley and stroked her hair away from her tear-stained face. “It’s all right,” she crooned sweetly. “It’s done. No one’s going to hurt anyone.”
I was about to argue further when the sound of gunshots ripped into the night. Not in the house, but they were close. Somewhere outside. I reacted without thinking, grabbing Sookie and speeding out onto the front lawn. I recognized the reports as my own weapon. I kept such a gun in my Lotus.
Pam was here.
Sookie squeaked in protest as I stopped on the porch, looking out into the weak pre-dawn light.
“Eric!” she shrieked again. “What about Hadley?”
I ignored her. Fuck Hadley. My child was here and might need me, however I was never leaving Sookie alone again. I tightened my grip on her and put my hand over her mouth. I sent my faint apology through our bond. I hated to restrain her, but I didn’t have time to explain just how little a fuck I gave about her cousin’s welfare.
“Pam,” I muttered, calling for her in a quiet tone that she would hear easily.
There was a pause.
Suddenly I detected movement thirty yards left of me. Pam moved out of the treeline. “Eric,” she answered, equally quiet. Sookie’s human ears did not perceive it.
Carefully, I unhanded her and set her gently to the side. She huffed at my roughshod treatment, but did not protest out loud. Pam walked towards us. I could see my weapon glinting in her hand. She halted before me. I saw nor smelt any evidence of blood on her.
“I drove as quickly as I could. Are you all right?”
I nodded and quirked a brow at her hand. “A gun?”
She shrugged. “Four weres attacked the car when I drove up. This is Prada,” she gestured to her suit. “I saw no reason to ruin it.” She adjusted her stance and scented the air. “I smell no others. Was that the entire pack?”
“Yes. Are all four dead?”
She nodded. “You’ll find them on the driveway. I wish to Christ they’d stay wolves when they died. Naked men are so shaggy and crude.”
I chuckled lightly, but was brought up short by Sookie’s unspoken reaction. Despite her distress, I immediately felt her indignation. Images of my own body surfaced in her mind. I saw my hairless chest under her hands. I felt her lust as she conjured my long, masculine arms and legs. Awareness prickled my Adam’s apple and caressed my short hair. Nimble little fingers traced the lines of my back. I inhaled softly.
She was feeling me up in her mind, convinced there was nothing remotely shaggy or crude as she explored.
I stifled my urge to grab her up and maul her with my tongue. I could tell that she hadn’t meant to share her disagreement so viscerally with me. She was simply reacting to Pam’s statement. I was forced to ignore it.
I turned to Pam. “You will bury the weres. I will figure out what to tell the Authority.”
Sookie gasped. “You can’t tell the Authority!” she cried. “What the hell would you say? The you exploded the queen with sunshine?”
“I will think of a plausible explanation for this. But there is no hiding what we’ve done. The queen and her court are dead. Pam’s and my scent are present. The Authority will know of our involvement, one way or another. We must tell them before they find out on their own.”
I spun and pushed Sookie behind me on pure instinct. She squeaked again and protested as Hadley stepped through the front door to join us on the patio. Her face was ashen, her eyes hollow and far away. The tall, sexy girl that had captured the queen’s attention now stood broken and dejected as she stared vacantly across the lawn.
“Leave. All of you. I’ll take care of this myself.”
The lifelessness in her voice stilled me. I moved into her line of sight and fingered her chin until she looked up at me. No spark met my gaze. In a human, it is an unnerving sight.
“You cannot,” I chided her. “This requires my attention.”
“Sookie requires your attention,” she countered quietly. “Like you said, all of this is my fault. I aim to own it.”
“There is nothing you can do, human. You cannot evade the Authority.”
“I didn’t say nothing about evading anybody, Sheriff. I’m just saying they don’t have to know about you bein’ here. None of you.” Her gaze flicked to my child and bonded.
Pam snorted. “What exactly do you plan to do then?”
Hadley shrugged. There was no fear in her now. Merely acceptance. I’ve seen this many times in my long life. She no longer cared. About anything.
“I’ll burn it. All of it.”
My eyes widened. She smiled with no joy.
“Well, it’s mine, ain’t it?”
“No!” Sookie answered.
I held my hand up again. “Let her speak.”
Hadley shrugged again. “I’ll burn this whole place to the ground. The Authority can question me if they want. I’ll say the queen was threatening a war. I waited until daybreak and killed every last one of them.”
“And the weres?” Pam jerked her head towards the driveway, no doubt where a neat stack of bodies lay.
The girl cocked her head slowly. “Toss them in the garage. I’ll say the queen locked them in there as punishment for something.”
I rolled the scenario in my mind. Despite the obvious anxiety I felt from Sookie at the thought of her cousin taking the blame for this, I had to admit it tied everything up nicely. A gasoline fire would obliterate any trace of Pam, Sookie or I. It would destroy the flesh in the parlor. It would obscure the bullet wounds in the weres. And it would save the Authority from having to think too much on the subject. The queen was already suspected of multiple crimes. If a human was responsible for her death, it absolved the vampire community of any liability. It would work out especially well if Hadley managed to convince them that she’d killed her in the name of peacekeeping. But even if they didn’t buy her reasons, they would certainly buy her guilt.
That was all that mattered.
I found myself nodding slowly.
“Eric, no,” Sookie saw and felt my consideration. “We can’t just leave her to set a house on fire and wait for the Authority! What if they just kill her on the spot like vigilantes?”
Hadley moved out of my hold and took Sookie gently by the shoulders. “Then you need to look after my son for me. You’d do that, wouldn’t you? Seeing as…” She let her sentence trail off as the two women stared in silent understanding. Sookie shook her head.
“We’re not leaving you without protection.” She turned to me in desperation, tears threatening to fall from her luminous, dark eyes. Her tears. Goddamn them. My resolve turned soft at their gathering.
“Please, Eric,” she entreated softly. “Please don’t just leave her here. They’ll kill her.”
It was certainly possible. I looked over the silly, ignorant pet and knew that the Authority might very well choose to end her life as punishment for the death of five vampires, despite how convenient those deaths were to everyone. Sookie’s sorrow bubbled hotly in my mind. I cursed silently. I hated how her despair clawed at my determination. The certainty that leaving Hadley to her fate would stricken my woman filled me with revulsion. I could not injure her. I had to shield her family as best I could.
Pam was uneasy. Dawn was near. We were in enemy territory and vampires disliked going to ground if discovery and staking were even a remote possibility.
I yanked out my phone and made a call.
“Were,” I addressed. “This is Northman. Where are you?”
The was a pained pause. “Cypress Bayou. We’ve got a restoration job up here.”
Cypress Bayou. That was useful. It was also north of Shreveport, just thirty minutes away.
“I need you to drive up to Sarepta. There’s someone I need you to pick up.”
“No,” his reply was firm, but not hostile. “We’ve already agreed that I’ve paid my family’s debt. I’m done with you, Sheriff.”
“Fifty grand,” I replied dryly. Fuck it. That kind of money meant a lot to most, but in my books it was chicken feed. “Fifty grand for you to come a collect Hadley Stackhouse and return her to Shreveport. You will guard her with your life.”
The money gave him pause. As did the name. “Stackhouse?”
“Sookie’s cousin,” I answered. “She needs protection. Dawn is coming, or I’d do it myself.”
Hervaux swallowed. At length, he sighed in resignation. “Text me the address. I can get to Sarepta in twenty.”
“She’ll be here,” I said. “The property will be burning. You are not to interfere, nor call the fire department. Clear?”
“Jesus,” he muttered. “Fine. Whatever. Tell Miss Stackhouse that a friend is coming.”
He hung up. I did the same.
I turned to the three women waiting behind me and strode up to the pet. She flinched as I moved to bite my own wrist. Blood dripped freely down my arm as I held it out to her. “Drink,” I ordered.
Both she and Sookie started in horror. Sookie moved to stop me. I held out my other hand. “It’s the only way, lover. Trust me.”
Hadley gulped, her eyes round as saucers as she glanced between me and Sookie, “But I don’t want -,”
“I told you I don’t give a fuck what you want. Sookie wishes to protect you. You will take my blood and my claim. The Authority will recognize it and treat you accordingly.”
“But…how will I explain -,”
Fuck! We didn’t have time for this. Pam was in danger of the coming sun and this human was wasting time. I stepped forward and shoved my quickly healing wrist between her lips. She choked slightly. I tightened my hold and forced my blood down her throat. Not wanting to frighten her or Sookie too badly, I pet her golden head and explained as I force-fed her.
“The were will take you to my home. You will tell everyone that you burned the queen’s lair, then came to me in Shreveport and asked for my claim. I have a liking for your family’s blood, so I gave it to you. You’re now mine.” I lifted my wrist from her bloodied mouth. “Say it.”
She swallowed the last of my offering, shaking like a small bird in the cup of my hand. “I asked for your claim. You like my blood. I’m yours.”
I nodded slowly. “Good. Very good.”
She continued to shake. “Are you going to take it now? My blood?”
Jealousy, which had been simmering in my lover’s bond, now exploded in my head with white, hot intensity. She hissed audibly and I couldn’t help my smile as I continued to stare down at this creature who could never, ever compare to my love. “No,” I replied. “Nor will I. Ever.” The bond settled slightly and I bit back a laugh.
“This is our story. People will not question it. I will bite you occasionally so you wear my mark, but I will never take your blood.”
Relief flooded her eyes. She shifted nervously and glanced at Sookie. “And…Hunter?”
“Your child?” I queried.
“By extension of you, he is mine. He will not drink from me, nor I from him, but he is mine. The Authority will heed this.”
Air hissed out of her lungs in exhausted relief. “Thank you, Sheriff. I…don’t know how…”
I turned away from her. Immediately, I swooped in and engulfed Sookie’s cheeks in my palms, leaning down and kissing her hard. She gasped at my suddenness, but quickly kissed me back, scorching my mouth with her searing lips. From my side, I sent her reassurance that there was no one for me but her. From her side, she blasted me with feral possessiveness. I was hers. She forced her claim onto me as she lightly bit at my lips and sucked on my tongue. It would have been so easy to lose myself in her. Unwillingly, I pulled back. “For you,” I whispered. “I claim them for you.”
“I know,” her answer was breathless. “Thank you.” There was still a thread of resentment in her. She hated that my blood was shared with another. I smiled and kissed her gently one more time before pulling away.
Pam looked at me expectantly.
“Put the weres in the garage. Burn this place to ash.”
I turned to Hadley again. “Invite her in.”
Hadley nodded and nervously gestured to the front door. “Please come in,” she said directly to Pam.
Pam was a blur of movement down the driveway. She zipped back and forth between the house and the were bodies, lifting two at a time. The sun was almost here. Pam was saving her snark for a more convenient time.
Sookie suddenly gasped and made to run past me. I stopped her instantly, hooking my arm around her waist as she made for the door. “No,” I ordered sternly.
She struggled against me. “The book!” she cried, looking at me plaintively. “There’s an old book upstairs. I need it! It’s -,” she stopped, looking panicked. “It’s about me. About…” she pulled my head to her lips, “…about my people. And us.”
“A bedroom upstairs. It’s out on the bed.”
I was gone and back in an instant. It wasn’t hard to follow her scent through the house to the room they kept her in. On the satiny bed was a book that smelled ancient. A quick scan of the opened page proved as much. I slipped it closed and shot out again, handing it to Sookie the moment I reemerged. She sighed with relief, tucking it carefully under her arm. I would ask more of it later.
Meanwhile, Pam had doused the entire first floor in various flammables: gasoline from the garage, liquor from the lounge, kerosine. It was done in moments. She came to a halt before me, a book a matches in her hand.
“The queen’s death was yours,” she acknowledged. “Would you care for her disposal?”
I took the book. “Back away,” I ordered the women. Wide-eyed, they obeyed, moving well out into the lawn.
I struck a single match and tossed it into the foyer. Pam had done well, filling the foyer and front rooms with gasoline and the lesser accelerants everywhere else. The match sputtered on its way down, nearly extinguishing before it hit the floor. For an instant, nothing happened, and then the entire entryway exploded to fiery life.
Flames licked up the walls and engulfed the ceiling in seconds. It raced through the halls and devoured all in its path. Wood, stone, brick, textiles. Nothing was spared. They were all eaten in a flurry of orange and red.
I turned once again to Pam. “Take the car. Drive ten miles down the road. Find a secluded spot and go to ground. Now.”
My tall, beautiful child bowed and made to run to the car.
Pam paused as Sookie held out her hand. Looking at me uncertainly, she kept her hand out in a meaningful way. “If…if you’re worried about Pam, I could try to…try to shoot her with…”
I caught her meaning immediately. Rage bubbled up, hot and uncontrollable. I growled so low and deadly that all three women froze in fear. “No.”
“But…I’m sorry, I just thought she would -,”
Sookie’s hand fell to her side and she stood wide-eyed and silent at my roar. I choked the urge to shove Pam hard towards the driveway. “Go!”
My child was gone. I felt her confusion and slight hurt at my anger. I would make amends later. I cared for Pam deeply, but the thought of Sookie sharing her Light with another – no matter who – filled me with unforgiving wrath towards them. I was furious that Sookie would even dare to offer it. It was mine. She knew this. I would reinforce this when I got her alone. We heard the engine start, then gun down the drive. I looked at the horizon. If she drove ninety miles an hour, she could get a reasonable distance away from this house and whomever might come snooping during the day. Nightfall would then call her from the ground and she would return to Shreveport, no one the wiser. I had already accepted that I would have to buy her another Prada suit after a night in the dirt.
The house blazed merrily behind us now. Nearby trees were wilting in the heat.
I took Sookie by the wrist and checked her watch. Hervaux would be there in less than ten minutes.
“The were will be here shortly. Are you all right here by yourself?” I asked Hadley.
Unable to calm her shivers, her head nodded affirmative in little trembles. I handed her my phone. “Text this address to the last number called. The werewolf will be here within minutes. Trust him. He will keep you safe.”
She looked past me. “Sookie?” she questioned.
My beloved nodded emphatically. “He’s right, hon. Alcide is a good man. He’ll take care of you.”
Sookie pulled my arm, turning me towards her. She felt my fury, but pressed with another unpleasant idea. “Maybe I should stay here,” she said, eyeing her cousin with worry. “You can…you know…go to ground…” she explained, covering our secret from Hadley. “I’ll wait with her and Alcide can take us home.”
It was not an irrational plan.
I hauled her up into my arms, jerking her chin in the cup of my palm. “Never.”
My eyes were steel as I drilled them into Hadley. “You will wait alone. Keep the phone in case there’s trouble. I’m taking my bonded with me.”
Again, her head wobbled in frightened agreement. Sookie began struggling in my arms while trying to protect her book in the crook of her elbow. She did not like my brusque manners any more than she liked leaving her cousin defenseless.
Too fucking bad.
I launched us into the air. Sookie gasped and instinctively clutched my shoulders, suddenly desperate for my arms, the arms she’d been pushing at seconds ago. The book pressed tightly between us. “Eric, stop!”
Negation rose up in me and slapped at her indignation as I sped up. I would not stop.
I would never stop.
The sun broke on the horizon and flooded us with its stunning splendor. I barely saw it. I tightened my hold on my lover, staying lower than usual and keeping her out of the colder, higher atmosphere.
I had killed five of my own kind.
I had claimed a human I did not want.
I had endangered my progeny when she could have been gifted with protection.
I had ignored my beloved’s wishes to stay behind and guard her family.
I had Sookie in my arms.
She could kick and scream all she liked. She was never leaving them again.