Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(2)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(2)
Author: Charlaine Harris

I let myself shift a bit, put my weight a little more on my right leg.

Then Father Littrell started all over again on Halleigh and Andy. I kept my smile pasted to my face (no problem there; I did it all the time at the bar) and watched Halleigh become Mrs. Andrew Bellefleur. I was lucky. Episcopalian weddings can be long, but the two couples had opted for having the shorter form of the service.

At last the music swelled to triumphant strains, and the newlyweds exited to the house. The wedding party trailed after them in reverse order. On my way down the aisle, I felt genuinely happy and a weensy bit proud. I'd helped Halleigh in her time of need... and very soon I was going to get to take these shoes off.

From his chair, Bill caught my eye and silently put his hand over his heart. It was a romantic and totally unexpected gesture, and for a moment I softened toward him. I very nearly smiled, though Selah was right there by his side. Just in time, I reminded myself that Bill was a no-good rat bastard, and I swept on my painful way. Sam was standing a couple of yards past the last row of chairs, wearing a white tux shirt like the one I'd had on and black dress pants. Relaxed and at ease, that was Sam. Even his tangled halo of strawberry blond hair somehow fit in.

I flashed him a genuine smile, and he grinned back. He gave me a thumbs-up, and though shifter brains are hard to read, I could tell he approved of the way I looked and the way I'd conducted myself. His bright blue eyes never left me. He's been my boss for five years, and we've gotten along great for the most part. He'd been pretty upset when I'd started dating a vampire, but he'd gotten over it.

I needed to get to work, and pronto. I caught up with Dana. "When can we change?" I asked.

"Oh, we have pictures to do yet," Dana said cheerfully. Her husband had come up to put his arm around her. He was holding their baby, a tiny thing swaddled in sex-neutral yellow.

"Surely I won't be needed for those," I said. "You-all took a lot of pictures earlier, right? Before what's-her-name got sick."

"Tiffany. Yes, but there'll be more."

I seriously doubted the family would want me in them, though my absence would unbalance the symmetry in the group pictures. I found Al Cumberland.

"Yes," he said, snapping away at the brides and grooms as they beamed at each other. "I do need some shots. You got to stay in costume."

"Crap," I said, because my feet hurt.

"Listen, Sookie, the best I can do is to shoot your group first. Andy, Halleigh! That is... Mrs. Bellefleur! If you-all will come this way, let's get your pictures done."

Portia Bellefleur Vick looked a little astonished that her group wasn't going first, but she had way too many people to greet to really get riled. While Maria-Star snapped away at the touching scene, a distant relative wheeled old Miss Caroline up to Portia, and Portia bent to kiss her grandmother. Portia and Andy had lived with Miss Caroline for years, after their own parents had passed away. Miss Caroline's poor health had delayed the weddings at least twice. The original plan had been for last spring, and it had been a rush job because Miss Caroline was failing. She'd had a heart attack and then recovered. After that, she'd broken her hip. I had to say, for someone who'd survived two major health disasters, Miss Caroline looked... Well, to tell the truth, she looked just like a very old lady who'd had a heart attack and a broken hip. She was all dressed up in a beige silk suit. She even had on some makeup, and her snow-white hair was arranged à la Lauren Bacall. She'd been a beauty in her day, an autocrat her entire life, and a famous cook until the recent past.

Caroline Bellefleur was in her seventh heaven this night. She'd married off both her grandchildren, she was getting plenty of tribute, and Belle Rive was looking spectacular, thanks to the vampire who was staring at her with an absolutely unreadable face.

Bill Compton had discovered he was the Bellefleurs' ancestor, and he had anonymously given Miss Caroline a whacking big bunch of money. She'd enjoyed spending it so much, and she had had no idea it had come from a vampire. She'd thought it a legacy from a distant relative. I thought it was kind of ironic that the Bellefleurs would just as soon have spit on Bill as thanked him. But he was part of the family, and I was glad he'd found a way to attend.

I took a deep breath, banished Bill's dark gaze from my consciousness, and smiled at the camera. I occupied my designated space in the pictures to balance out the wedding party, dodged the googly-eyed cousin, and finally hotfooted it up the stairs to change into my bartender's rig.

There was no one up here, and it was a relief to be in the room by myself.

I shimmied out of the dress, hung it up, and sat on a stool to unbuckle the straps of the painful shoes.

There was a little sound at the door, and I looked up, startled. Bill was standing just inside the room, his hands in his pockets, his skin glowing gently. His fangs were out.

"Trying to change here," I said tartly. No point in making a big show of modesty. He'd seen every inch of me.

"You didn't tell them," he said.

"Huh?" Then my brain caught up. Bill meant that I hadn't told the Bellefleurs that he was their ancestor. "No, of course not," I said. "You asked me not to."

"I thought, in your anger, you might give them the information."

I gave him an incredulous look. "No, some of us actually have honor," I said. He looked away for a minute. "By the way, your face healed real well."

During the Fellowship of the Sun bombing in Rhodes, Bill's face had been exposed to the sun with really stomach-churning results.

"I slept for six days," he said. "When I finally got up, it was mostly healed. And as for your dig about my failing in honor, I haven't any defense... except that when Sophie-Anne told me to pursue you... I was reluctant, Sookie. At first, I didn't want to even pretend to have a permanent relationship with a human woman. I thought it degraded me. I only came into the bar to identify you when I couldn't put it off any longer. And that evening didn't turn out like I'd planned. I went outside with the drainers, and things happened. When you were the one who came to my aid, I decided it was fate. I did what I had been told to do by my queen. In so doing, I fell into a trap I couldn't escape. I still can't."

The trap of LUUUUVVVV, I thought sarcastically. But he was too serious, too calm, to mock. I was simply defending my own heart with the weapon of bitchiness.

"You got you a girlfriend," I said. "You go on back to Selah." I looked down to make sure I'd gotten the little strap on the second sandal unlatched. I worked the shoe off. When I glanced back up, Bill's dark eyes were fixed on me.

"I would give anything to lie with you again," he said.

I froze, my hands in the act of rolling the thigh-high hose off my left leg.

Okay, that pretty much stunned me on several different levels. First, the biblical "lie with." Second, my astonishment that he considered me such a memorable bed partner.

Maybe he only remembered the virgins.

"I don't want to fool with you tonight, and Sam's waiting on me down there to help him tend bar," I said roughly. "You go on." I stood and turned my back to him while I pulled on my pants and my shirt, tucking the shirt in. Then it was time for the black running shoes. After a quick check in the mirror to make sure I still had on some lipstick, I faced the doorway.

He was gone.

I went down the wide stairs and out the patio doors into the garden, relieved to be resuming my more accustomed place behind a bar. My feet still hurt. So did the sore spot in my heart labeled Bill Compton.

Sam gave me a smiling glance as I scurried into place. Miss Caroline had vetoed our request to leave a tip jar out, but bar patrons had already stuffed a few bills into an empty highball glass, and I intended to let that stay in position.

"You looked real pretty in the dress," Sam said as he mixed a rum and Coke. I handed a beer across the bar and smiled at the older man who'd come to fetch it. He gave me a huge tip, and I glanced down to see that in my hurry to get downstairs I'd skipped a button. I was showing a little extra cl**vage. I was momentarily embarrassed, but it wasn't a slutty button, just a "Hey, I've got boobs" button. So I let it be.

"Thanks," I said, hoping Sam hadn't noticed this quick evaluation. "I hope I did everything right."

"Of course you did," Sam said, as if the possibility of me blowing my new role had never crossed his mind. This is why he's the greatest boss I've ever had.

"Well, good evening," said a slightly nasal voice, and I looked up from the wine I was pouring to see that Tanya Grissom was taking up space and breathing air that could be better used by almost anyone else. Her escort, Calvin, was nowhere in sight.

"Hey, Tanya," Sam said. "How you doing? It's been a while."

"Well, I had to tie up some loose ends in Mississippi," Tanya said. "But I'm back here visiting, and I wondered if you needed any part-time help, Sam."

I pressed my mouth shut and kept my hands busy. Tanya stepped to the side nearest Sam when an elderly lady asked me for some tonic water with a wedge of lime. I handed it to her so quickly she looked astonished, and then I took care of Sam's next customer. I could hear from Sam's brain that he was pleased to see Tanya. Men can be idiots, right? To be fair, I did know some things about her that Sam didn't.

Selah Pumphrey was next in line, and I could only be amazed at my luck. However, Bill's girlfriend just asked for a rum and Coke.

"Sure," I said, trying not to sound relieved, and began putting the drink together.

"I heard him," Selah said very quietly.

"Heard who?" I asked, distracted by my effort to listen to what Tanya and Sam were saying - either with my ears or with my brain.

"I heard Bill when he was talking to you earlier." When I didn't speak, she continued, "I snuck up the stairs after him."

"Then he knows you were there," I said absently, and handed her the drink. Her eyes flared wide at me for a second - alarmed, angry? She stalked off. If wishes could kill, I would be lifeless on the ground.

Tanya began to turn away from Sam as if her body was thinking of leaving, but her head was still talking to my boss. Finally, her whole self went back to her date. I looked after her, thinking dark thoughts.

"Well, that's good news," Sam said with a smile. "Tanya's available for a while."

I bit back my urge to tell him that Tanya had made it quite clear she was available. "Oh, yeah, great," I said. There were so many people I liked. Why were two of the women I really didn't care for at this wedding tonight? Well, at least my feet were practically whimpering with pleasure at getting out of the too-small heels.

I smiled and made drinks and cleared away empty bottles and went to Sam's truck to unload more stock. I opened beers and poured wine and mopped up spills until I felt like a perpetual-motion machine.

The vampire clients arrived at the bar in a cluster. I uncorked one bottle of Royalty Blended, a premium blend of synthetic blood and the real blood of actual European royalty. It had to be refrigerated, of course, and it was a very special treat for Glen's clients, a treat he'd personally arranged. (The only vampire drink that exceeded Royalty Blended in price was the nearly pure Royalty, which contained only a trace of preservatives.) Sam lined up the wineglasses. Then he told me to pour it out. I was extraspecial careful not to spill a drop. Sam handed each glass to its recipient. The vampires, including Bill, all tipped very heavily, big smiles on their faces as they lifted their glasses in a toast to the newlyweds.

After a sip of the dark fluid in the wineglasses, their fangs ran out to prove their enjoyment. Some of the human guests looked a smidge uneasy at this expression of appreciation, but Glen was right there smiling and nodding. He knew enough about vampires not to offer to shake hands. I noticed the new Mrs. Vick was not hobnobbing with the undead guests, though she made one pass through the cluster with a strained smile fixed on her face.

When one of the vampires came back for a glass of ordinary TrueBlood, I handed him the warm drink. "Thank you," he said, tipping me yet again. While he had his billfold open, I saw a Nevada driver's license. I'm familiar with a wide variety of licenses from carding kids at the bar; he'd come far for this wedding. I really looked at him for the first time. When he knew he'd caught my attention, he put his hands together and bowed slightly. Since I'd been reading a mystery set in Thailand, I knew this was a wai, a courteous greeting practiced by Buddhists - or maybe just Thai people in general? Anyway, he meant to be polite. After a brief hesitation, I put down the rag in my hand and copied his movement. The vampire looked pleased.

"I call myself Jonathan," he said. "Americans can't pronounce my real name."

There might have been a touch of arrogance and contempt there, but I couldn't blame him.

"I'm Sookie Stackhouse," I said.

Jonathan was a smallish man, maybe five foot eight, with the light copper coloring and dusky black hair of his country. He was really handsome. His nose was small and broad, his lips plump. His brown eyes were topped with absolutely straight black brows. His skin was so fine I couldn't detect any pores. He had that little shine vampires have.

"This is your husband?" he asked, picking up his glass of blood and tilting his head in Sam's direction. Sam was busy mixing a pi colada for one of the bridesmaids.

"No, sir, he's my boss."

Just then, Terry Bellefleur, second cousin to Portia and Andy, lurched up to ask for another beer. I was real fond of Terry, but he was a bad drunk, and I thought he was well on his way to achieving that condition. Though the Vietnam vet wanted to stand and talk about the president's policy on the current war, I walked him over to another family member, a distant cousin from Baton Rouge, and made sure the man was going to keep an eye on Terry and prevent him from driving off in his pickup.

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