Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(10)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(10)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"You want to own your own life," Eric said.

"As much as anyone can."

"Just when I think you're very simple, you say something complex," Eric said.

"Are you complaining?" I tried to smile, failed.

"No."

A heavy girl with a big jaw came up and thrust an autograph book in front of Eric. "Could you please sign this?" she said. Eric gave her a blinding smile and scribbled on the blank page. "Thank you," she said breathlessly, and went back to her table. Her friends, all women just old enough to be in the bar, were exclaiming at her courage, and she leaned forward, telling them all about her encounter with the vampire. As she finished, one of the human waitresses drifted up to their table and took another order for drinks. The staff here was well-trained.

"What was she thinking?" Eric asked me.

"Oh, she was very nervous and she thought you were lovely, but ..." I struggled to put it into words. "Not handsome in a way that was very real to her, because she would never think she would actually get to have you. She's very ... she doesn't think much of herself."

I had one of those flashes of fantasy.Eric would walk over to her, bow to her, give her a reverent kiss on the cheek, ignore her prettier friends. This gesture would make every man in the bar wonder what the vampire saw in her that they couldn't see. Suddenly the plain girl would be overwhelmed with attention from the men who'd witnessed the interchange. Her friends would give her respect because Eric had. Her life would change .

But none of that happened, of course. Eric forgot about the girl as soon as I'd finished speaking. I didn't think it would work out like my fantasy, even if he did approach her. I felt a flash of disappointment that fairy tales didn't come true. I wondered if my fairy great-grandfather had ever heard one of what we thought of as a fairy tale. Did fairy parents tell fairy children human tales? I was willing to bet they didn't.

I felt a moment of disconnect, as if I were standing back from my own life and viewing it from afar. The vampires owed me money and favors for my services to them. The Weres had declared me a friend of the pack for my help during the just-completed war. I was pledged to Eric, which seemed to mean I was engaged or even married. My brother was a werepanther. My great-grandfather was a fairy. It took me a moment to pull myself back into my own skin. My life was too weird. I had that out-of-control feeling again, as if I were spinning too fast to stop.

"Don't talk to the FBI people alone," Eric was saying. "Call me if it's at night. Call Bobby Burnham if they come in the day."

"But he hates me!" I said, dragged back into reality and thus not too cautious. "Why would I call him?"

"What?"

"Bobby hates me," I said. "He'd love it if the feds carted me off to some underground bunker in Nevada for the rest of my life."

Eric's face looked frozen. "He said this?"

"He didn't have to. I can tell when someone thinks I'm slime."

"I'll have a talk with Bobby."

"Eric, it's not against the law for someone to dislike me," I said, remembering how dangerous it could be to complain to a vampire.

He laughed. "Maybe I'll make it against the law," he said teasingly, his accent more apparent than usual. "If you can't reach Bobby - and I am absolutely sure he will help you - you should call Mr. Cataliades, though he's down in New Orleans."

"He's doing well?" I hadn't seen or heard from the half-demon lawyer since the collapse of the vampire hotel in Rhodes.

Eric nodded. "Never better. He is now representing Felipe de Castro's interests in Louisiana. He would help if you asked him. He's quite fond of you."

I stored that piece of information away to ponder. "Did his niece survive?" I asked. "Diantha?"

"Yes," Eric said. "She was buried for twelve hours, and the rescuers knew she was there. But there were beams wedged over the place where she was trapped, and it took time to remove them. They finally dug her out."

I was glad to hear Diantha was alive. "And the lawyer, Johan Glassport?" I asked. "He had a few bruises, Mr. Cataliades said."

"He recovered fully. He collected his fee and then he vanished into the depths of Mexico."

"Mexico's gain is Mexico's loss," I said. I shrugged. "I guess it takes a lawyer to get your money when the hirer is dead. I never got mine. Maybe Sophie-Anne thought Glassport did more for her, or he had the wits to ask even though she'd lost her legs."

"I didn't know you weren't paid." Eric looked displeased all over again. "I'll talk to Victor. If Glassport collected for his services to Sophie, you certainly should. Sophie left a large estate, and no children. Victor's king owes you a debt. He'll listen."

"That would be great," I said. I may have sounded a little too relieved.

Eric eyed me sharply. "You know," he said, "if you need money, you have only to ask. I will not have you going without anything you need, and I know you enough to be sure you wouldn't ask for money for something frivolous."

He almost didn't sound like that was such an admirable attribute. "I appreciate the thought," I said, and I could hear my voice get all stiff. "I just want what's due me."

There was a long silence between us, though the bar was at its usual noise level around Eric's table.

"Tell me the truth," Eric said. "Is it possible you came here simply to spend time with me? You haven't yet told me how angry you are with me that I tricked you over the knife. Apparently you're not going to, at least not tonight. I haven't yet discussed with you all my memories of the time we spent together when you were hiding me at your house. Do you know why I ended up so close to your home, running down that road in the freezing cold?"

His question was so unexpected that I was struck silent. I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer. But finally I said, "No, I don't."

"The curse contained within the witch, the curse that activated when Clancy killed her ... it was that I would be close to my heart's desire without ever realizing it. A terrible curse and one that Hallow must have constructed with great subtlety. We found it dog-eared in her spell book."

There was nothing for me to say. I'd think about that, though.

It was the first time I'd come to Fangtasia simply to talk, without having been called there for some vampire reason. Blood bond or something much more natural? "I think ... I just wanted some company," I said. "No soul-shaking revelations."

He smiled. "This is good."

I didn't know if it was or not.

"You know we're not really married, right?" I said. I had to say something, as much as I wanted to forget the whole thing had ever happened. "I know vamps and humans can get married now, but that wasn't a ceremony I recognize, nor does the State of Louisiana."

"I know that if I hadn't done it, you'd be sitting in a little room in Nevada right now, listening to Felipe de Castro while he does business with humans."

I hate it when my suspicions are correct. "But I saved him," I said, trying not to whine. "I saved his life, and he promised I had his friendship. Which means his protection, I thought."

"He wants to protect you right by his side now that he knows what you can do. He wants the leverage having you would give him over me."

"Some gratitude. I should have let Sigebert kill him." I closed my eyes. "Dammit, I just can't come out ahead."

"He can't have you now," Eric said. "We are wed."

"But, Eric ..." I thought of so many objections to this arrangement I couldn't even begin to voice them. I had promised myself I wouldn't start arguing about this tonight, but the issue was like the eight-hundred-pound gorilla. It simply couldn't be ignored. "What if I meet someone else? What if you ... Hey, what are the ground rules of being officially married? Just tell me."

"You're too upset and tired tonight for a rational conversation," Eric said.

He shook his hair back over his shoulders, and a woman at the next table said,"Oooooooooh ."

"Understand that he can't touch you now, that no one can unless they petition me first. This is under penalty of final death. And this is where my ruthlessness will be of service to both of us."

I took a deep breath. "Okay. You're right. But this isn't the end of the subject. I want to know everything about our new situation, and I want to know I can get out of this if I can't stand it."

His eyes looked as blue as a clear autumn sky, and as guileless. "You will know everything when you want to know," he said.

"Hey, does the new king know about my great-grandfather?"

Eric's face settled into lines of stone. "I can't predict Felipe's reaction if he finds out, my lover. Bill and I are the only ones who have that knowledge now. It has to stay that way."

He reached over to take my hand again. I could feel each muscle, each bone, through the cool flesh. It was like holding hands with a statue, a very beautiful statue. Again, I felt oddly peaceful for a few minutes.

"I have to go, Eric," I said, sorry but not sorry to be leaving. He leaned over to me and kissed me lightly on the lips. When I pushed back my chair, he rose to walk me to the door. I felt the wannabes hammer me with looks of envy all the way out of Fangtasia. Pam was at her station, and she looked at us with a chilly smile.

Lest we part on too lovey-dovey a note, I said, "Eric, when I'm back to being myself, I'm going to nail your ass for putting me in this position of being pledged to you."

"Darling, you can nail my ass anytime," he said charmingly, and turned to go back to his table.

Pam rolled her eyes. "You two," she said.

"Hey, this isn't any of my doing," I said, which wasn't entirely true. But it was a good exit line, and I took advantage of it to leave the bar.

Chapter 7

The next morning, Andy Bellefleur called to give me the greenlight to reopen.

By the time the crime scene tape was down, Sam had returned to Bon Temps. I was so glad to see my boss that my eyes got weepy. Managing Merlotte's was a lot harder than I'd ever realized. There were decisions to make every day and a huge crowd of people who needed to be kept happy: the customers, the workers, the distributors, the deliverymen. Sam's tax guy had called with questions I couldn't answer. The utility bill was due in three days, and I didn't have check-writing privileges. There was a lot of money that needed to be deposited into the bank. It was almost payroll time.

Though I felt like blurting out all these problems the minute Sam walked in the back door of the bar, I drew in a calming breath and asked about his mother.

After giving me a half hug, Sam had thrown himself into his creaking chair behind his desk. He swiveled to face me directly. He propped his feet up on the edge of the desk with an air of relief. "She's talking, walking, and mending," he said. "For the first time, we don't have to make up a story to cover how fast she can heal. We took her home this morning, and she's already trying to do stuff around the house. My brother and sister are asking her a million questions now that they've gotten used to the idea. They even seem kind of envious I'm the one who inherited the trait."

I was tempted to ask about his stepfather's legal situation, but Sam seemed awful anxious to get back into his normal routine. I waited a moment to see if he would bring it up. He didn't. Instead, he asked about the utility bill, and with a sigh of relief I was able to refer him to the list of things that needed his attention. I'd left it on his desk in my neatest handwriting.

First on the list was the fact that I'd hired Tanya and Amelia to come in some evenings to make up for Arlene's defection.

Sam looked sad. "Arlene's worked for me since I bought the bar," he said. "It's going to be strange, her not being here. She's been a pain in the butt in the past few months, but I figured she'd swing around to being her old self sooner or later. You think she'll reconsider?"

"Maybe, now that you're back," I said, though I had severe doubts. "But she's gotten to be so intolerant. I don't think she can work for a shifter. I'm sorry, Sam."

He shook his head. His dark mood was no big surprise, considering his mom's situation and the not-completely-ecstatic reaction of the American populace to the weird side of the world.

It amazed me that, once upon a time, I hadn't known, either. I hadn't realized some of the people I knew were werewolves because I didn't comprehend there was such a thing. You can misinterpret every mental cue you get if you don't understand where it's coming from. I'd always wondered why some people were so hard to read, why their brains gave me a different image from others. It simply hadn't occurred to me it was because those brains belonged to people who literally turned into animals.

"You think business'll slack off because I'm a shapeshifter or because of the murder?" Sam asked. Then he shook himself and said, "Sorry, Sook. I wasn't thinking about Crystal being your in-law."

"I wasn't ever nuts about her, as you well know," I said, as matter-of-factly as I could. "But I think it's awful what was done to her, no matter what she was like."

Sam nodded. I'd never seen his face so gloomy and serious. Sam was a creature of sunshine.

"Oh," I said, getting up to leave, and then I stopped, shifting from foot to foot. I took a deep breath. "By the way, Eric and I are married now." If I'd hoped I'd get to make my exit on a light note, my judgment was way, way off. Sam leaped to his feet and grabbed me by the shoulders.

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