Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(3)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(3)
Author: Charlaine Harris

The vampire Jonathan was keeping an eye on me while I did this, and I wasn't sure why. But I didn't observe anything aggressive or lustful in his stance or demeanor, and his fangs were in. It seemed safe to disregard him and take care of business. If there was some reason Jonathan wanted to talk to me, I'd find out about it sooner or later. Later was fine.

As I fetched a case of Cokes from Sam's truck, my attention was caught by a man standing alone in the shadows cast by the big live oak on the west side of the lawn. He was tall, slim, and impeccably dressed in a suit that was obviously very expensive. The man stepped forward a little and I could see his face, could realize he was returning my gaze. My first impression was that he was a lovely creature and not a man at all. Whatever he was, human wasn't part of it. Though he had some age on him, he was extremely handsome, and his hair, still pale gold, was as long as mine. He wore it pulled back neatly. He was slightly withered, like a delicious apple that had been in the crisper too long, but his back was absolutely straight and he wore no glasses. He did carry a cane, a very simple black one with a gold head.

When he stepped out of the shadows, the vampires turned as a group to look. After a moment they slightly inclined their heads. He returned the acknowledgment. They kept their distance, as if he was dangerous or awesome.

This episode was very strange, but I didn't have time to think about it. Everyone wanted one last free drink. The reception was winding down, and people were filtering to the front of the house for the leave-taking of the happy couples. Halleigh and Portia had disappeared upstairs to change into their going-away outfits. The E(E)E staff had been vigilant about clearing up empty cups and the little plates that had held cake and finger food, so the garden looked relatively neat.

Now that we weren't busy, Sam let me know he had something on his mind. "Sookie, am I getting the wrong idea, or do you dislike Tanya?"

"I do have something against Tanya," I said. "I'm just not sure I should tell you about it. You clearly like her." You'd think I'd been sampling the bourbon. Or truth serum.

"If you don't like to work with her, I want to hear the reason," he said. "You're my friend. I respect your opinion."

This was very pleasant to hear.

"Tanya is pretty," I said. "She's bright and able." Those were the good things.

"And?"

"And she came here as a spy," I said. "The Pelts sent her, trying to find out if I had anything to do with the disappearance of their daughter Debbie. You remember when they came to the bar?"

"Yes," said Sam. In the illumination that had been strung up all around the garden, he looked both brightly lit and darkly shadowed. "You did have something to do with it?"

"Everything," I said sadly. "But it was self-defense."

"I know it must have been." He'd taken my hand. My own jerked in surprise. "I know you," he said, and didn't let go.

Sam's faith made me feel a little warm glow inside. I'd worked for Sam a long time now, and his good opinion meant a lot to me. I felt almost choked up, and I had to clear my throat. "So, I wasn't happy to see Tanya," I continued. "I didn't trust her from the start, and when I found out why she'd come to Bon Temps, I got really down on her. I don't know if she still gets paid by the Pelts. Plus, tonight she's here with Calvin, and she's got no business hitting on you." My tone was a lot angrier than I'd intended.

"Oh." Sam looked disconcerted.

"But if you want to go out with her, go ahead," I said, trying to lighten up. "I mean - she can't be all bad. And I guess she thought she was doing the right thing, coming to help find information on a missing shifter." That sounded pretty good and might even be the truth. "I don't have to like who you date," I added, just to make it clear I understood I had no claim on him.

"Yeah, but I feel better if you do," he said.

"Same here," I agreed, to my own surprise.

Chapter 2

We began packing up in a quiet and unobtrusive way, since there were still lingering guests.

"As along as we're talking about dates, what happened to Quinn?" he asked as we worked. "You've been moping ever since you got back from Rhodes."

"Well, I told you he got hurt pretty bad in the bombing." Quinn's branch of E(E)E staged special events for the supe community: vampire hierarchal weddings, Were coming of age parties, packleader contests, and the like. That was why Quinn had been in the Pyramid of Gizeh when the Fellowship did its dirty deed.

The FotS people were anti-vampire, but they had no idea that vampires were just the visible, public tip of the iceberg in the supernatural world. No one knew this; or at least only a few people like me, though more and more were in on the big secret. I was sure the Fellowship fanatics would hate werewolves or shapeshifters like Sam just as much as they hated vampires... if they knew they existed. That time might come soon.

"Yeah, but I would have thought..."

"I know, I would have thought Quinn and I were all set, too," I said, and if my voice was dreary, well, thinking about my missing weretiger made me feel that way. "I kept thinking I'd hear from him. But not a word."

"You still got his sister's car?" Frannie Quinn had loaned me her car so I could get home after the Rhodes disaster.

"No, it vanished one night when Amelia and I were both at work. I called and left a voice mail on his cell to say it had been taken, but I never heard back."

"Sookie, I'm sorry," Sam said. He knew that was inadequate, but what could he say?

"Yeah, me, too," I said, trying not to sound too depressed. It was an effort to keep from retreading tired mental ground. I knew Quinn didn't blame me in any way for his injuries. I'd seen him in the hospital in Rhodes before I'd left, and he'd been in the care of his sister, Fran, who didn't seem to hate me at that point. No blame, no hate - why no communication?

It was like the ground had opened to swallow him up. I threw up my hands and tried to think of something else. Keeping busy was the best remedy when I was worried. We began to shift some of our things to Sam's truck, parked about a block away. He carried most of the heavier stuff. Sam is not a big guy, but he's really strong, as all shifters are.

By ten thirty we were almost finished. From the cheers at the front of the house, I knew that the brides had descended the staircase in their honeymoon clothes, thrown their bouquets, and departed. Portia and Glen were going to San Francisco, and Halleigh and Andy were going to Jamaica to some resort. I couldn't help but know.

Sam told me I could leave. "I'll get Dawson to help me unload at the bar," he said. Since Dawson, who'd been standing in for Sam at Merlotte's Bar tonight, was built like a boulder, I agreed that was a good plan.

When we divided the tips, I got about three hundred dollars. It had been a lucrative evening. I tucked the money in my pants pocket. It made a big roll, since it was mostly ones. I was glad we were in Bon Temps instead of a big city, or I'd worry that someone would hit me on the head before I got to my car.

"Well, night, Sam," I said, and checked my pocket for my car keys. I hadn't bothered with bringing a purse. As I went down the slope of the backyard to the sidewalk, I patted my hair self-consciously. I'd been able to stop the pink smock lady from putting it on top of my head, so she'd done it puffy and curly and sort of Farrah Fawcett. I felt silly.

There were cars going by, most of them wedding guests taking their departure. There was some regular Saturday night traffic. The line of vehicles parked against the curb stretched for a very long way down the street, so all traffic was moving slowly. I'd illegally parked with the driver's side against the curb, not usually a big deal in our little town.

I bent to unlock my car door, and I heard a noise behind me. In a single movement, I palmed my keys and clenched my fist, wheeled, and hit as hard as I could. The keys gave my fist quite a core, and the man behind me staggered across the sidewalk to land on his butt on the slope of the lawn.

"I mean you no harm," said Jonathan.

It isn't easy to look dignified and nonthreatening when you have blood running from one corner of your mouth and you're sitting on your ass, but the Asian vampire managed it.

"You surprised me," I said, which was a gross understatement.

"I can see that," he said, and got easily to his feet. He brought out a handkerchief and patted his mouth.

I wasn't going to apologize. People who sneak up on me when I'm alone at night, well, they deserve what they get. But I reconsidered. Vampires move quietly. "I'm sorry I assumed the worst," I said, which was sort of a compromise. "I should have identified you."

"No, it would have been too late by then," Jonathan said. "A woman alone must defend herself."

"I appreciate your understanding," I said carefully. I glanced behind him, tried not to register anything on my face. Since I hear so many startling things from people's brains, I'm used to doing that. I looked directly at Jonathan. "Did you... Why were you here?"

"I'm passing through Louisiana, and I came to the wedding as a guest of Hamilton Tharp," he said. "I'm staying in Area Five, with the permission of Eric Northman."

I had no idea who Hamilton Tharp was - presumably some buddy of the Bellefleurs'. But I knew Eric Northman quite well. (In fact, at one time I'd known him from his head to his toes, and all points in between.) Eric was the sheriff of Area Five, a large chunk of northern Louisiana. We were tied together in a complex way, which most days I resented like hell.

"Actually, what I was asking you was - why did you approach me just now?" I waited, keys still clutched in my hand. I'd go for his eyes, I decided. Even vampires are vulnerable there.

"I was curious," Jonathan said finally. His hands were folded in front of him. I was developing a strong dislike for the vamp.

"Why?"

"I heard a little at Fangtasia about the blond woman Eric values so highly. Eric has such a hard nose that it didn't seem likely any human woman could interest him."

"So how'd you know I was going to be here, at this wedding, tonight?"

His eyes flickered. He hadn't expected me to persist in questioning. He had expected to be able to calm me, maybe at this moment was trying to coerce me with his glamour. But that just didn't work on me.

"The young woman who works for Eric, his child Pam, mentioned it," he said.

Liar, liar, pants on fire, I thought. I hadn't talked to Pam in a couple of weeks, and our last conversation hadn't been girlish chatter about my social and work schedule. She'd been recovering from the wounds she'd sustained in Rhodes. Her recovery, and Eric's, and the queen's, had been the sole topic of our conversation.

"Of course," I said. "Well, good evening. I need to be leaving." I unlocked the door and carefully slid inside, trying to keep my eyes fixed on Jonathan so I'd be ready for a sudden move. He stood as still as a statue, inclining his head to me after I started the car and pulled off. At the next stop sign, I buckled my seat belt. I hadn't wanted to pin myself down while he was so close. I locked the car doors, and I looked all around me. No vampires in sight. I thought, That was really, really weird. In fact, I should probably call Eric and relate the incident to him.

You know what the weirdest part was? The withered man with the long blond hair had been standing in the shadows behind the vampire the whole time. Our eyes had even met once. His beautiful face had been quite unreadable. But I'd known he didn't want me to acknowledge his presence. I hadn't read his mind - I couldn't - but I'd known this nonetheless.

And weirdest of all, Jonathan hadn't known he was there. Given the acute sense of smell that all vampires possessed, Jonathan's ignorance was simply extraordinary.

I was still mulling over the strange little episode when I turned off Hummingbird Road and onto the long driveway through the woods that led back to my old house. The core of the house had been built more than a hundred and sixty years before, but of course very little of the original structure remained. It had been added to, remodeled, and reroofed a score of times over the course of the decades. A two-room farmhouse to begin with, it was now much larger, but it remained a very ordinary home.

Tonight the house looked peaceful in the glow of the outside security light that Amelia Broadway, my housemate, had left on for me. Amelia's car was parked in back, and I pulled alongside it. I kept my keys out in case she'd gone upstairs for the night. She'd left the screen door unlatched, and I latched it behind me. I unlocked the back door and relocked it. We were hell on security, Amelia and I, especially at night.

A little to my surprise, Amelia was sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for me. We'd developed a routine after weeks of living together, and generally Amelia would have retired upstairs by this time. She had her own TV, her cell phone, and her laptop up there, and she'd gotten a library card, so she had plenty to read. Plus, she had her spell work, which I didn't ask questions about. Ever. Amelia is a witch.

"How'd it go?" she asked, stirring her tea as if she had to create a tiny whirlpool.

"Well, they got married. No one pulled a Jane Eyre. Glen's vampire customers behaved themselves, and Miss Caroline was gracious all over the place. But I had to stand in for one of the bridesmaids."

"Oh, wow! Tell me."

So I did, and we shared a few laughs. I thought of telling Amelia about the beautiful man, but I didn't. What could I say? "He looked at me"? I did tell her about Jonathan from Nevada.

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