Home > From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(5)

From Dead to Worse (Sookie Stackhouse #8)(5)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"No, you're sticking with me," she said.

"You gotta talk to your dad," I said. "At some point, I'm leaving the room."

She took a deep breath and let it out. "Okay, I'm a grown-up," she muttered.

"Scaredy-cat," I said.

"You haven't met him yet."

Amelia hurried upstairs at four fifteen to get ready. I was sitting in the living room reading a library book when I heard a car on the gravel driveway. I glanced at the clock on the mantel. It was four forty-eight. I yelled up the staircase and stood to look out the window. The afternoon was drawing to a close, but since we hadn't reverted to standard time yet, it was easy to see the Lincoln Town Car parked in front. A man with clipped dark hair, wearing a business suit, got out of the driver's seat. This must be Marley. He wasn't wearing a chauffeur's hat, somewhat to my disappointment. He opened a rear door. Out stepped Copley Carmichael.

Amelia's dad wasn't very tall, and he had short thick gray hair that looked like a really good carpet, dense and smooth and expertly cut. He was very tan, and his eyebrows were still dark. No glasses. No lips. Well, he did have lips, but they were really thin, so his mouth looked like a trap.

Mr. Carmichael looked around him as if he were doing a tax assessment.

I heard Amelia clattering down the stairs behind me as I watched the man in my front yard complete his survey. Marley the chauffeur was looking right at the house. He'd spotted my face at the window.

"Marley's sort of new," Amelia said. "He's been with my dad for just two years."

"Your dad's always had a driver?"

"Yeah. Marley's a bodyguard, too," Amelia said casually, as if everyone's dad had a bodyguard.

They were walking up the gravel sidewalk now, not even looking at its neat border of ilex. Up the wooden steps. Across the front porch. Knocking.

I thought of all the scary creatures that had been in my house: Weres, shifters, vampires, even a demon or two. Why should I be worried about this man? I straightened my spine, chilled my anxious brain, and went to the front door, though Amelia almost beat me to it. After all, this was my house.

I put my hand on the knob, and I got my smile ready before I opened the door.

"Please come in," I said, and Marley opened the screen door for Mr. Carmichael, who came in and hugged his daughter but not before he'd cast another comprehensive look around the living room.

He was as clear a broadcaster as his daughter.

He was thinking this looked mighty shabby for a daughter of his... Pretty girl Amelia was living with... Wondered if Amelia was ha**ng s*x with her... The girl was probably no better than she should be... No police record, though she had dated a vampire and had a wild brother...

Of course a rich and powerful man like Copley Carmichael would have his daughter's new housemate investigated. Such a procedure had simply never occurred to me, like so many things the rich did.

I took a deep breath. "I'm Sookie Stackhouse," I said politely. "You must be Mr. Carmichael. And this is?" After shaking Mr. Carmichael's hand, I extended mine to Marley.

For a second, I thought I'd caught Amelia's dad off-footed. But he recovered in record time.

"This is Tyrese Marley," Mr. Carmichael said smoothly.

The chauffeur shook my hand gently, as if he didn't want to break my bones, and then he nodded to Amelia. "Miss Amelia," he said, and Amelia looked angry, as if she was going to tell him to cut the "Miss," but then she reconsidered. All these thoughts, pinging back and forth... It was enough to keep me distracted.

Tyrese Marley was a very, very light-skinned African-American. He was far from black; his skin was more the color of old ivory. His eyes were bright hazel. Though his hair was black, it wasn't curly, and it had a red cast. Marley was a man you'd always look at twice.

"I'll take the car back to town and get some gas," he said to his boss. "While you spend time with Miss Amelia. When you want me back?"

Mr. Carmichael looked down at his watch. "A couple of hours."

"You're welcome to stay for supper," I said, managing a very neutral tone. I wanted what made everyone feel comfortable.

"I have a few errands I need to run," Tyrese Marley said with no inflection. "Thanks for the invitation. I'll see you later." He left.

Okay, end of my attempt at democracy.

Tyrese couldn't have known how much I would have preferred going into town rather than staying in the house. I braced myself and began the social necessities. "Can I get you a glass of wine, Mr. Carmichael, or something else to drink? What about you, Amelia?"

"Call me Cope," he said, smiling. It was way too much like a shark's grin to warm my heart. "Sure, a glass of whatever's open. You, baby?"

"Some of the white," she said, and I heard her telling her dad to be seated as I went to the kitchen.

I served the wine and added it to the tray with our hors d'oeuvres: crackers, a warm Brie spread, and apricot jam mixed with hot peppers. We had some cute little knives that looked good with the tray, and Amelia had gotten cocktail napkins for the drinks.

Cope had a good appetite, and he enjoyed the Brie. He sipped the wine, which was an Arkansas label, and nodded politely. Well, at least he didn't spit it out. I seldom drink, and I'm no kind of wine connoisseur. In fact, I'm not a connoisseur of anything at all. But I enjoyed the wine, sip by sip.

"Amelia, tell me what you're doing with your time while you're waiting for your home to be repaired," Cope said, which I thought was a reasonable opening.

I started to tell him that for starters, she wasn't screwing around with me, but I thought that might be a little too direct. I tried very hard not to read his thoughts, but I swear, with him and his daughter in the same room, it was like listening to a television broadcast.

"I've done some filing for one of the local insurance agents. And I'm working part-time at Merlotte's Bar," Amelia said. "I serve drinks and the occasional chicken basket."

"Is the bar work interesting?" Cope didn't sound sarcastic, I'll give him that. But, of course, I was sure he'd had Sam researched, too.

"It's not bad," she said with a slight smile. That was a lot of restraint for Amelia, so I checked into her brain to see that she was squeezing herself into a conversational girdle. "I get good tips."

Her father nodded. "You, Miss Stackhouse?" Cope asked politely.

He knew everything about me but the shade of fingernail polish I was wearing, and I was sure he'd add that to my file if he could. "I work at Merlotte's full-time," I said, just as if he didn't know that. "I've been there for years."

"You have family in the area?"

"Oh, yes, we've been here forever," I said. "Or as close to forever as Americans get. But our family's dwindled down. It's just me and my brother now."

"Older brother? Younger?"

"Older," I said. "Married, real recently."

"So maybe there'll be other little Stackhouses," he said, trying to sound like he thought that would be a good thing.

I nodded as if the possibility pleased me, too. I didn't like my brother's wife much, and I thought it was entirely possible that any kids they had would be pretty rotten. In fact, one was on the way right now, if Crystal didn't miscarry again. My brother was a werepanther (bitten, not born), and his wife was a born... a pure... werepanther, that is. Being raised in the little werepanther community of Hotshot was not an easy thing, and would be even harder for kids who weren't pure.

"Dad, can I get you some more wine?" Amelia was out of her chair like a shot, and she sped on her way to the kitchen with the half-empty wineglass. Good, quality alone time with Amelia's dad.

"Sookie," Cope said, "you've been very kind to let my daughter live with you all this time."

"Amelia pays rent," I said. "She buys half the groceries. She pays her way."

"Nonetheless, I wish you'd let me give you something for your trouble."

"What Amelia gives me on rent is enough. After all, she's paid for some improvements to the property, too."

His face sharpened then, as if he was on the scent of something big. Did he think I'd talked Amelia into putting a pool in the backyard?

"She got a window air conditioner put in her bedroom upstairs," I said. "And she got an extra phone line for the computer. And I think she got a throw rug and some curtains for her room, too."

"She lives upstairs?"

"Yes," I said, surprised he didn't somehow know already. Perhaps there were a few things his intelligence net hadn't scooped up. "I live down here, she lives up there, and we share the kitchen and living room, though I think Amelia's got a TV upstairs, too. Hey, Amelia!" I called.

"Yeah?" Her voice floated down the hall from the kitchen.

"You still got that little TV up there?"

"Yeah, I hooked it up to the cable."

"Just wondered."

I smiled at Cope, indicating the conversational ball was in his court. He was thinking of several things to ask me, and he was thinking of the best way to approach me to get the most information. A name popped to the surface in the whirlpool of his thoughts, and it took everything I had to keep a polite expression.

"The first tenant Amelia had in the house on Chloe - she was your cousin, right?" Cope said.

"Hadley. Yes." I kept my face calm as I nodded. "Did you know her?"

"I know her husband," he said, and smiled.

Chapter 3

I knew Amelia had returned and was standing by the wing-back chair where her father sat, and I knew she was frozen in place. I knew I didn't breathe for a second.

"I never met him," I said. I felt as if I'd been walking in a jungle and fallen into a concealed pit. I was sure glad I was the only telepath in the house. I hadn't told anyone, anyone at all, about what I'd found in Hadley's lockbox when I'd cleaned it out that day at a bank in New Orleans. "They'd been divorced for a while before Hadley died."

"You should take the time to meet him someday. He's an interesting man," Cope said, as if he wasn't aware he was dropping a bombshell on me. Of course he was waiting for my reaction. He'd hoped I hadn't known about the marriage at all, that I'd be taken completely by surprise. "He's a skilled carpenter. I'd love to track him down and hire him again."

The chair he was sitting on had been upholstered in a cream-colored material with lots of tiny blue flowers on green arching stems embroidered on it. It was still pretty, if faded. I concentrated on the pattern of the chair so I wouldn't show Copley Carmichael how very angry I was.

"He doesn't mean anything to me, no matter how interesting he is," I said in a voice so level you could've played pool on it. "Their marriage was over and done. As I'm sure you know, Hadley had another partner at the time she died." Was murdered. But the government hadn't gotten around to taking much notice of vampire deaths unless those deaths were caused by humans. Vampires did most of their own self-policing.

"I'd think you'd want to see the baby, though," Copley said.

Thank God I picked this out of Copley's head a second or two before he actually spoke the words. Even knowing what he was going to say, I felt his oh-so-casual remark hit me like a blow to the stomach. But I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of letting him see that. "My cousin Hadley was wild. She used drugs and people. She wasn't the most stable person in the world. She was really pretty, and she had a way about her, so she always had admirers." There, I'd said everything pro and con about my cousin Hadley. And I hadn't said the word "baby." What baby?

"How'd your family feel when she became a vampire?" Cope said.

Hadley's change was a matter of public record. "Turned" vampires were supposed to register when they entered their altered state of being. They had to name their maker. It was a kind of governmental vampire birth control. You can bet the Bureau of Vampire Affairs would come down like a ton of bricks on a vampire who made too many other little vampires. Hadley had been turned by Sophie-Anne Leclerq herself.

Amelia had put her father's wineglass down within his reach and resumed her seat on the sofa beside me. "Dad, Hadley lived upstairs from me for two years," she said. "Of course we knew she was a vampire. For goodness sake, I thought you'd want to tell me all the hometown news."

God bless Amelia. I was having a hard time holding myself together, and only years of doing that very thing when I telepathically overheard something awful was keeping me glued.

"I need to check on the food. Excuse me," I murmured, and rose and left the room. I hoped I didn't scurry. I tried to walk normally. But once in the kitchen, I kept on going out the back door and across the back porch, out the screen door and into the yard.

If I thought I'd hear Hadley's ghostly voice telling me what to do, I was disappointed. Vampires don't leave ghosts, at least as far as I know. Some vampires believe they don't possess souls. I don't know. That's up to God. And here I was babbling to myself, because I didn't want to think about Hadley's baby, about the fact that I hadn't known about the child.

Maybe it was just Copley's way. Maybe he always wanted to demonstrate the extent of his knowledge, as a way of showing his power to the people he dealt with.

I had to go back in there for Amelia's sake. I braced myself, put my smile back on - though I knew it was a creepy, nervous smile - and back I went. I perched by Amelia and beamed at both of them. They looked at me expectantly, and I realized a conversational lull had fallen.

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