We made it to his house in record time. Eric had kept to the air above the forest, not risking roads or suburbs, places where people could see us overhead. Unlike when I had come to his house a few nights ago, we now needed several security clearances at the door, including a retina scan from Eric, to get inside. Strange. I mean, I guess all those things would have kept a few out, but like Jason always said, locks only keep out honest thieves. Since Eric was a vampire and thus any vampire could enter his home, I didn’t really think a retina scan would stop them, not when they could just tear the door off its hinges. Same went for humans. Or weres. They only (in the past) had to wait until sunrise and they could have done pretty much anything to get inside. Or just burn it ala Sophie Anne’s place.
Still, I supposed something was better than nothing. Maybe the house was kept under a human name to bar other vampires, like Sophie Anne’s had been. I’d ask about it later.
Meanwhile, I guessed Alcide and Hadley could just ring the doorbell when they got here.
Kitty Eric met us as we entered the front door. I instantly felt guilty, leaving him alone for so long, and in a huge, foreign house. He slithered between our feet, meowing his hellos and butting his head into our ankles. I reached down to stroke his fuzzy head.
“Good boy,” I cooed to him. His purr exploded at the attention. Eric chuckled deeply.
The cat food bowl was beside the door, still brimming with kernels of brown. His water was equally fresh and plentiful. Thank goodness for that. I’d have felt twice as much guilt if he’d been hungry as well as lonely. I pet him briefly until he was satisfied and wandered off into the living room.
My other Eric wasn’t so easily contented.
He didn’t speak as he led me to his bedroom and into the master bath. Once there, he turned the shower on and grabbed the hem of my dress.
“Undress me,” he mumbled as he lifted my dress up and over my head. I smiled faintly, unbuttoning the top of his jeans, then slowly lowering his fly. The backs of my fingers rubbed along the harsh V of his lower stomach muscles. Sex muscles, Layfayette called them. I couldn’t disagree. He kicked off his shoes and stripped out of his t-shirt. I loved watching him arc high in the air, his long arms and torso twisting out of the cotton. He shoved his pants to the floor and pulled me close. My ear pressed directly into his sternum as he folded me up in his arms. I laughed softly at the sheer altitude of him. It was something I was still getting used to. I’d always rested my head on Bill’s shoulder when we…
I took a sharp breath.
“No,” I muttered sadly. I wouldn’t do this now. I wouldn’t mourn for Bill in Eric’s arms. Later. When I’d had some sleep and a little distance from everything that had happened. I was still operating on adrenaline and relief right now. I didn’t want to start crying for him. Not now.
Eric felt my sadness and guessed its origin. The unspoken name of the dark vampire settled between us. Surprisingly, Eric didn’t get angry. His fingers filtered into my hair and to my amazement, he started rocking me softly.
“You’re allowed to grieve, Sookie,” he said into my hair, stroking my bare back with a warm hand. “I know you loved him.”
At his words, I sniffed slightly. “You’re not upset?”
“I am for you. You cared for him and he betrayed you. Now his death pains you. I regret that pain.”
I looked up at him, craning my neck all the way back. “You hated him, didn’t you?”
Eric’s eyes were hard and soft at the same time as he gazed back. “I felt nothing for him at all. He was a vampire in my territory. One name in a thousand kept in my ledger. Until…” He touched my face carefully. “…until the night he brought you to my bar. Until he refused to relinquish you to me. From that moment, I have despised him.”
I gave him a broken smile. “I wouldn’t have accepted you, even if he had.”
The blue flashed, then settled. “I would have made it very hard for you to walk away.”
“Another lovely stay in your dungeon?”
The soft disappeared, the hard remained. “I regret that as well. I hope I would not have imprisoned you, had Bill released you. However, had I tasted you first, before I knew you, it’s possible…” He stopped again, his jaw clenching. “…probable…that I would have chained you up and never let you go.”
I couldn’t say I was surprised. Still. “Against my will?”
His palms swallowed my cheeks, trapping my face between his fingers. “Your defiance only increases my desire for you, Sookie. Had I possessed you before I fell in love with you, I would probably have killed you. Your blood, your anger, your purity, they would have unhinged me.”
I didn’t answer. Again, I wasn’t all that shocked. I’d be a fool if I saw Eric as anything other than what he was, and that meant that the man holding my face like a priceless piece of china was a blood-sucking killer. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people, dead at his hands. In that respect, I was no better than those women who wrote love letters to serial killers. The only difference was that I actually got to know my killer personally first – which, let’s be honest – didn’t erase the fact that I had questionable-ass taste in men.
I put my hands over his. “Then I guess Bill did me one favor; he fended you off until you tipped ass over teakettle for me.”
He smiled that ancient, amused smile. “Indeed.” He closed his eyes and placed a slow kiss on my forehead. “But I do not resent your need to mourn.”
“You’re sweet,” I replied. “But I don’t want to mourn right now. I’m tired.”
It was true. Neither of us had slept recently, just a nap in his backyard the day before. I had been salivating over a long sleep ever since I’d found my book. Now, I was positively exhausted. I knew Eric was no better off. Blood was peeking from his ear canals. Aside from when he cried and he bled from his eyes, which I’d only seen once, the one place I hated seeing blood on Eric was his cute little ears. I can’t say why, but it really got to me. Maybe because it reminded me that Eric wasn’t invincible. Maybe because bloody noses and tears (albeit bloody tears) were still normal occurrences in human beings. But blood in the ears was an alarming sight. It made my hands twitch for a First Aid kit.
I’d put him to bed immediately. But first, a shower sounded nice.
We stepped in together and gave each other a very half-assed soaping. Aside from holding him, I didn’t have the energy to clean him with my usual diligence. He was the same, filling his hands with gel, but only using them to slide along my arms and back. I didn’t care. The heat of the spray and the comfort of his closeness were all I really wanted. Once we toweled off, Eric shouldered into a black silk robe that he left untied and handed me something from the hook beside it.
I held it out to study, then looked back at him questioningly. It was nothing like what I’d expect him to dress me in.
He caught my look and shrugged, reaching out to finger the soft, simple white cotton with little pink flowers on it. “Would you prefer something else?”
I shook my head hard, turning the robe in my hand this way and that. “No. It’s fine. It’s very…me, actually. I just thought you’d pick something more -,”
“Suggestive?” he supplied, smirking slightly.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Suggestive. Silky, like yours. And short. Something that got you all hot and bothered.”
He took the robe from me and opened it up. I turned and slipped my arms into it as he held them out for me. I turned to face him, tying it up. When I looked up, I was startled to see he did indeed look very hot and bothered. His fingers slipped under the little lapels and he tugged me into his chest. I put my hands on his arms to steady myself as he continued to leer at me.
“I have seen you in this,” he muttered, his thumbs caressing the tiny triangle of skin at my throat. “I dreamed it once. You seduced me in it.”
My eyes widened. “I seduced you? Wearing this?”
I looked down at myself. At best, it was upper class WalMart in style. It fell to my calves. It didn’t cling or entice in any way. It was just a floral-print afterthought to a bath. I looked back up and marveled. He obviously saw something else entirely.
He leaned down to kiss me and I caught the sight of blood next to his sideburns. I cupped his face and kept the kiss shallow, nuzzling his cheek while broadcasting my worry. His fantasy would have to wait.
“The bleeds,” I whispered.
I tugged his hands and led him to bed. As he lay down, I noticed a small, black, rectangular box on the pillow next to his. My pillow, I guess.
He settled back, looking over briefly. “For you.”
“I said flowers,” I chastised him. “You already do too much.”
“This is not a gift, lover,” he said, plucking the box up and holding it out to me. “This is for balance.”
He looked at me expectantly and I smiled in good-natured annoyance. I took the box from him, sitting on the mattress next to his supine form, and opened it.
A beautiful, oddly-shaped pendant greeted me inside. It was silver in color, as was its chain, though I was sure it was either white gold or platinum. An elegant teardrop, less than two inches in length. There was no decoration, however it had a slight three-dimensionality to it. A paper-thin line ran close around the base. I picked it up from its cushioned nest to examine it. The weight surprised me. Between my pinched fingers, I let it spin slightly from its chain.
“It’s so pretty,” I said quietly, watching the flattened drop turn.
He chuckled. “Is it?”
I looked at him. “You don’t think so?”
“I’m glad it pleases you, however it is not meant for aesthetics.”
I frowned. “Then what’s it meant for?”
Smirking, Eric reached out and pinched the base of the teardrop between his thumb and index finger. Gently, he pulled. I gasped as the base slid free and something fell into his hand. He held it up for me to see. A double-edged dagger, as small and slender as an arrowhead, greeted me. The base of the teardrop was actually the hilt, designed to fit perfectly between two fingers. The miniature blade was beautiful, glinting and razor-sharp. The rest of the pendant still hung from my hand, the now-triangular sheath bottomed-out and hollowed. A tiny little weapon, separated between the two of us.
I smiled and bit my lip playfully. “A sword for my Barbie?”
Eric pinched the hilt and held it out to me. “For you, lover.”
I took it from him, chuckling as I parried and struck the air with the tiny blade. “To battle itsy, bitsy dragons with?”
He caught my hand and drew me up against him. I gasped as I fell onto his chest. Still holding my hand, he brought the blade to his throat. “To make us equal,” he explained. “This blade is for my blood.”
My fingers instantly pulled the dagger away from his skin. My brow furrowed as I regarded him. “But you’re perfectly capable of giving me your blood. Why do I need this little thing?”
With that, Eric rumbled. God, I loathed and adored that sound. When he laughed like that, my whole body melted and demanded my brain shut up and just give him whatever the hell he wanted.
He petted my sides as he spoke. “I can only reach my arms.” He leered. “Did you always want it from such a chaste source?”
“I…I don’t know,” I admitted, arching under his lazy strokes. “I guess I never thought about it.”
“Well,” he drawled. “I know that if I were restricted to your wrists, Sookie, I’d feel very…cheated.”
“Blood’s blood, ain’t it?” I knew damn well it wasn’t. Hell, every place he bit me was like discovering a new G spot.
“It’s more than blood,” he tsked, palming my ass to make his point. “For example, you know I’ve only had you from your wrist once.”
I nodded, drawing small circles in the insanely soft silk of his robe as he spoke.
Eric’s eyes glittered at the memory. “You saved me. You fed me willingly. Your wrist will always be special for that reason. However,” he grabbed my ass and hitched me higher, harder, onto him. Our lips almost met. Our unequal bodies lined up as best they could. He lifted his head to whisper into my mouth. “Drinking from your wrist means you didn’t want me to die.”
He kissed me softly. “But drinking from your throat? Means you trust me.”
He kissed again. Harder. “Drinking from your breasts? Means you fuck me.”
I moaned as his lips slipped under my chin and his hands stoked fire all over my body. “Drinking from your thighs, the most dangerous, intimate place? Means you love me, Sookie.”
“I do,” I whimpered softly. “Oh, God, I do.”
“So,” he concluded, licking me from ear to pulse point. “I want you to wear this,” he tapped the blade. “I want you to drink from me. Anywhere you wish.”
I hummed and shimmied on top of him. “Anywhere?”
I felt him smile against my pulse. “Shock me,” he challenged haughtily.
“Fightin’ words, vampire.”
“Do your worst, little fairy.”
I giggled and levered up slightly. Looking at him playfully, I dragged the blade lightly against his lips. “Weeeeell,” I drew out, obviously thinking hard. “I’ve already had you here.” I lowered again, moving the blade, and kissed his mouth, touching his healed tongue with my own. Just that evening, he’d cut it as we’d kissed, giving me a precious few drops.
I lifted up and he growled, disliking a broken kiss.
I slid the small dagger down his cheek, circling it over his pulse. “And twice from here.” Again, I moved the blade and replaced it with my mouth, sucking and kissing into the spot where I’d sucked silver shrapnel from him, and then also two inches lower where I’d taken our second blood bond.
Eric was making some kind of pleased, frustrated growl as I pushed his open robe to either side, exposing his nudity as I dragged the dagger lower.
“Here,” I kissed into the other site of shrapnel I’d extracted before I licked a line to another invisible marker. “And here,” I claimed where my ring had sliced him earlier, tonguing just above his nipple.
“Sookie,” he muttered warningly.
I grinned against him. “What? You said anywhere. I’m weighing my options.”
He grumbled something and I thought I heard the term ‘cocktease’ in there somewhere. I laughed. Like he was one to talk.
My robe was gathered in his tight fists on either side of me. I wondered briefly if it was in for an unsalvageable rip, like all of my other clothes. I didn’t mind, though I did wonder about this ‘seduction dream’ that had made him buy it in the first place.
Smiling, I lifted his right hand to my lips, pressing them into his index finger. Our first blood bond. “Don’t forget here,” I said. Then I slid my lips to his inner forearm, the site of our second. “And lastly, here.”
I nipped the tendons as they flexed under the stimulation.
He grunted again, growing restless beneath me. “Make your choice, then. Your assessment is complete.”
I chuckled at his detached wording. I knew it helped him remove himself from the heat of the moment. He cherished his indifference and the cool rationality that came with it. I threatened it. Burned it all up. Poof.
I snaked down his body, the panel of his silky robe opening with no resistance. I came to the hard washboard of his abdomen. He tensed beneath me in expectation. I licked along the valleys between the tight cluster of muscles.
Without warning, I lightly flicked the dagger over his bellybutton, nicking his dense flesh. Eric gasped. I don’t know what he’d been expecting, but this clearly wasn’t it. Blood quickly pooled in the wound, then ran over and caught perfectly in the tiny cup of his navel. Just as I’d hoped.
“I choose here.” I sealed my mouth over his navel and sucked, tonguing softly into the little cup, lapping as it flowed.
Eric hissed with pleasure, his head falling back onto the pillow, laying himself completely open to me.
My cut hadn’t been deep and he was already healing. The thimble’s worth of his blood was more than enough. I already felt the pulse of his power coursing through me as I continued to lave attention on his trustingly exposed belly. His hands shot to my hair and tangled deeply into it, clutching my head to him as I drank.
“Fuck, you satisfy me,” he muttered, his eyes closed, fangs bared.
His approval traveled directly through his blood. I could taste it. Spicy sweet and indefinably Eric. I sucked the last of his gift from his bellybutton, making sure it was all clean and pale again before I let go. God, it was like fifteen cups of coffee had leapt into my bloodstream. Half of my exhaustion disappeared, replaced by strength and energy and…yeah, okay…a smidge of lust.
Stupid, horndog vampire blood.
I looked up at its source. He was slightly arched up towards me. Eyes still closed. Hands still buried in my hair. Enjoying the sensation of himself slithering through my system.
“I fucking love feeling you this way,” he said, his brow knitted with concentration as he navigated the train of his blood in mine.
I opened our bond wide and let him see everything. “Me too,” I agreed. I crawled up his body and settled against him, sighing softly.
“Shall I show the other ways I love feeling you?”
I laughed and shook my head. “The bleeds, remember? Go to sleep.”
“I don’t want sleep. I want sex.”
“I’ll sex you up later,” I argued pertly. “My heart breaks when you bleed.”
He tapped my emotions and was surprised to find that his bleeds did indeed bother the hell outta me. He rubbed his hands soothingly along my arms.
“I’ve gone for several days without sleep before, Sookie,” he comforted. “I’m in no danger.”
“Humor me,” I retorted. “Take a nap. I’ll answer the door when my cousin gets here.”
Irritation filled him. He didn’t like that we were soon going to be disturbed. But he didn’t whine.
“Very well,” he conceded, kissing the top of my head beneath his chin. “Good day, lover.”
I kissed his chest in answer. “See you soon.”
I must have slept for an hour or so before the chimes woke me up. I sat up blearily and started when the plasma screen tv on the opposite wall sprang to life. It was filled with fifty-two inches of Eric’s front porch, Alcide standing in the bright sun with Hadley draped sideways in his arms, dead asleep.
“Ding dong,” I muttered to myself, slipping off of Eric and standing up. I straightened my mussed robe, retying the belt. Once marginally presentable, I made my way downstairs to welcome our guests.
“Hey,” I greeted, holding the door wide for my friend.
Alcide’s blinked in surprise. “How the hell did you get here already?” he asked as he stepped over the threshold. “Hadley said you guys left a minute before I showed up.”
I shrugged and shocked myself with an easy lie. “Eric had a safehouse nearby. One of his SUVs had a travel coffin in it. I drove it the rest of the way.” I quirked a brow at him. “Did you take the scenic route or something? You guys shoulda beat me, no problem.”
To my immense relief, he looked down at Hadley guiltily. “She’s a sweetie, this one,” he muttered softly. “I stopped at a coffee shop and bought her breakfast. She’s skin and bones.” He moved his gaze to me and it hardened. “She also bears Eric’s scent. Almost as much as you do.”
Accusation simmered warmly between us.
I dipped into him gently and listened.
Blood, just blood on Hadley Sookie is fuckin’ saturated in sex, blood, sweat, happy, she smells happy no fear in her at all What the hell is going on? More than a claim there’s a bond never usually smell bonds in humans I’ve only ever smelled one before How could she be so stupid? What the hell has he managed to glamor her finally?
I motioned for him to bring her into the living room where I’d seen a delicious-looking leather couch. He took my meaning and laid her out, pulling a merino blanket over her bare legs and short skirt. Hadley murmured in her sleep, then turned on her side, snuggling deep into the cushions. After making sure she was comfy, Alcide followed me into the kitchen. I’d never been in there before, so I started rummaging. Maybe Eric had stocked coffee or juice or something now that he had a human lover.
Bingo. Coffee and a coffeemaker. I set about making some brew, motioning for him to pull up a stool to the breakfast bar.
“What has she told you?” I asked.
“Not a hell of a lot,” he replied dryly, watching me work. “She’s too scared.”
He let that set before adding, “What the hell did he do to her?”
I leveled him with my own stare. “Nothing,” I answered. “Believe me, Eric isn’t who you wanna be mad at.”
“She can barely say his name, it spooks her so bad.”
“Look,” I said, locating two cups. “I love you both to pieces, so I’ll be frank with you about her. Hadley, until three hours ago, belonged to the vampire queen Sophie Anne.”
His brow went up. “The ex-queen? The one who’s in the shit with the Authority?”
I nodded. Vamp news was supe news, after all. I wasn’t surprised he already knew. “Hadley’s been with her for years. She’s kinda why I got tangled up with vampires, not that she knew it would happen.”
The coffeepot percolated. After it dinged, I poured two steaming cups full.
queen kidnapped me from Eric. Don’t,” I stopped him before he spoke, “…ask me why. It’s not important. The important thing is that I belong to Eric, she took me, he showed up and killed the shit outta her. Cream or sugar?”
“Both. Lots.” Snow white lots of sugar, I don’t want a trace of brown
“You got it.” I murdered his coffee accordingly and slid it over to him. “Anyway, blah blah blah, Eric agreed to claim Hadley to protect her from the Authority, among other reasons. Because she’s my kin, Eric gave his blood to her and swore her safety to me.”
He took a sip. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” he muttered into his cup.
“Tell me about it.”
He looked over the rim at me. “And you’re all right?”
I smiled faintly and nodded. “Fine. Just tired.”
“I mean about Eric. What the fuck, Sookie?” Such a sweetheart should know better, just like Hadley, pretty girl, so soft scared, I like her, shouldn’t like her, belongs to Eric now, Christ Alive what a fuckin’ mess
Ah. My smile felt even heavier. God, there was just too much to explain. “I know, I know,” I said. “Look, I’ll boil it down. I love him. I hated him forever and I fought with him about everything and I truly wanted to kill him, like, ninety-eight percent of the time, but…” I shrugged “…I’m in love with him. I am stupid, stupid in love with him. The funny thing is? He’s stupid in love with me, too.”
Vampire he’s a vampire, cold-hearted bastard at that, doesn’t love, can’t love, Bill maybe, but not Eric, too hard, despises humans, but I don’t know, sent me to protect Sookie in Jackson Why the fuck would he care? Maybe, doubt it, she seems pretty sure
“I am sure,” I replied with a kind look.
“Fuck!” he lowered his gaze instantly, hiding from my probe.
I bit my lip. “Sorry. I don’t mean to pry. But I appreciate your worrying over me. You’re sweet.”
He snorted. “Yeah. ‘m a fuckin’ saint.”
Needed the money, feel guilty, I’m your friend, friends should help when they can, such a pretty thing standing there when I drove up, so scared, fire behind her, don’t think about her, she’s Eric’s now, asshole has too many pretty women that fuck
I chuckled and took a sip of my cup. “I’m glad you like her. She needs all the friends she can get.”
“Goddammit, knock it off. Quit foolin’ around in there.” He tapped his head and scowled at me.
I held my free hand up in surrender. “Fine. But for the record, Eric has no interest in Hadley. If you, ya know…”
He eyed me darkly. “I won’t take up with a blood whore, pardon my language. I refuse to watch any woman of mine feed that asshole and get his scent all over her.” Debbie lost her damn mind to V, couldn’t watch Hadley bitten, couldn’t watch her drink him, I don’t care if he doesn’t fuck her, he’ll ruin her
“Ruin her? What is this? A Jane Austen novel?”
“Whadd I say?”
“Sorry,” I waved my hand again. “Jeez, calm down. I promise you, Eric isn’t going to drink from her and she isn’t going to drink from him.” I felt my eyes turn chilly as I stared him down. “He is mine.”
He snorted again. “It don’t work that way, darlin’. Vamps claim people. People don’t get to claim vamps.”
I took another long sip, my eyes never leaving his. “You already know that we’re bonded. We belong to each other. Nobody else.”
“And you trust him to honor that, do you?”
“Yes,” I answered simply. I supposed I could have gotten angry at his tone, but I found I couldn’t blame him. Friends argued with you and called you a damn fool if they didn’t like your choices. That was how you knew they cared.
He sighed heavily, slowly getting to his feet. “I gotta git movin’. I didn’t tell the crew I was gonna be late.”
I stood up and came around the bar. Before he could fend me off with some manly sidestep, I bear hugged him. He huffed sheepishly, caught, before letting his arms fold around me. I smiled against his flannel shirt.
“Thank you for helping my cousin. I’ll be sure to sing your praises when she wakes up.”
“Oh, don’t you dare,” he grunted. “Just tell her I said goodbye.”
I squeezed him teasingly. “And that you loooooove her.”
“I said shush. Git offa me, little girl.”
He peeled me off and set me aside, but kept his hands on my shoulders. “Now you take extra-special fuckin’ care, Sookie. Ima be mighty pissed if I hear you’ve been hurt because of this mess of yours.”
I smiled with more energy that I’d felt all morning. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“Goddammit,” he muttered as he turned towards the entryway. “Whadd I just say?”