Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(17)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(17)
Author: Charlaine Harris

Okay, that had really been an unpleasant simile. I banished the idea and scrubbed. When I thought the trowel looked spotless, I washed it and dried it all over again. Then I walked quickly out the back door and through the dark to hang the damn thing back in the toolshed on its designated hook.

I wondered if I might not get a cheap new trowel at Wal-Mart after all. I wasn't sure I could use the iron one the next time I wanted to move some jonquil bulbs. It would feel like using a gun to pry out nails. I hesitated, the trowel poised to hang from its designated hook. Then I made up my mind and carried it back to the house. I paused on the back steps, admiring the last streak of light for a few moments until my stomach growled.

What a long day it had been. I was ready to settle in front of the television with a plate of something bad for me, watching some show that wouldn't improve my mind at all.

I heard the crunching of a car coming up the driveway as I was opening the screen door. I waited outside to see who my caller might be. Whoever it was, they knew me a little, because the car proceeded around to the back.

In a day full of shocks, here was another: my caller was Quinn, who was not supposed to stick his big toe into Area Five. He was driving a Ford Taurus, a rental car.

"Oh, great ," I said. I'd wanted company earlier, but not this company. As much as I'd liked and admired Quinn, this conversation promised to be just as upsetting as the day had been.

He got out of his car and strode over to me, his walk graceful, as always. Quinn is a very large shaved-bald man with pansy purple eyes. He is one of the few remaining weretigers in the world and probably the only male weretiger on the North American continent. We'd broken up the last time I'd seen him. I wasn't proud of how I'd told him or why I'd done it, but I thought I'd been pretty clear about us not being a couple.

Yet here he was, and his big warm hands were resting on my shoulders. Any pleasure I might have felt at seeing him again was drowned by the wave of anxiety that swept over me. I felt trouble in the air.

"You shouldn't be here," I said. "Eric turned down your request; he told me so."

"Did he ask you first? Did you know I wanted to see you?" The darkness was now intense enough to trigger the outside security light. Quinn's face had harsh lines in the yellow glare. His gaze locked with mine.

"No, but that's not the point," I said. I felt rage on the wind. It wasn't my rage.

"I think it is."

It was sunset. There simply wasn't time to get into an extended argument. "Didn't we say it all last time?" I didn't want to go through another scene, no matter how fond I was of this man.

"You said what you thought was all, babe. I disagree."

Oh, great. Just what I needed! But since I really do know that not everything is about me, I counted to ten and said, "I know I didn't give you any slack when I told you we shouldn't see each other anymore, Quinn, but I did mean what I said. What's changed in your personal situation? Is your mom able to take care of herself now? Or has Frannie grown up enough to be able to manage your mom if she escapes?" Quinn's mom had been through an awful time, and she'd come out of it more or less nuts. Actually, more. His sister, Frannie, was still a teenager.

He bowed his head for a moment, as if he were gathering himself. Then he looked directly into my eyes again. "Why are you harder on me than on anyone else?" he asked.

"I am not," I said instantly. But then I thought, Am I?

"Have you asked Eric to give up Fangtasia? Have you asked Bill to give up his computer enterprise? Have you asked Sam to turn his back on his family?"

"What ... ?" I began, trying to work out the connection.

"You're asking me to give up other people I love - my mother and my sister - if I want to have you," he said.

"I'm not asking you to do anything ," I said, feeling the tension inside me ratchet up to an almost intolerable level. "I told you that I wanted to be first with the guy in my life. And I figured - I still figure - that your family has got to come first with you because your mom and your sister are not exactly stand-on-their-own-two-feet kind of women. I haven't asked Eric to give up Fangtasia! Why would I do that? And where does Sam come into it?" I couldn't even think of a reason to mention Bill. I was so over him.

"Bill loves his status in the human and vampire worlds, and Eric loves his little piece of Louisiana more than he'll ever love you," Quinn said, and he sounded almost sorry for me. That was ridiculous.

"Where did all the hating come from?" I asked, holding my hands spread in front of me. "I didn't quit dating you because of any feelings I had for someone else. I quit dating you because I thought your plate was full already."

"He's trying to wall you off from everyone else who cares for you," Quinn said, focusing on me with unnerving intensity. "And look at all the dependents he has."

"You're talking about Eric?" All Eric's "dependents" were vampires who could damn well take care of themselves.

"He'll never dump his little area for you. He'd never let his little pack of sworn vamps serve someone else. He'll never - "

I couldn't stand this anymore. I gave a scream of sheer frustration. I actually stomped my foot like a three-year-old. "I haven't asked him to!" I yelled. "What are you talking about? Did you show up to tell me no one else will ever love me? What's wrong with you?"

"Yes, Quinn," said a familiar, cold voice. "What's wrong with you?"

I swear I jumped at least six inches. I'd let my quarrel with Quinn absorb my attention, and I hadn't felt Bill's arrival.

"You're frightening Sookie," Bill said from a yard behind me, and my spine shivered at the menace in his voice. "That won't happen, tiger."

Quinn snarled. His teeth began growing longer, sharper, before my eyes. Bill stood at my side in the next second. His eyes were glowing an eerie silvery brown.

Not only was I afraid they'd kill each other, I realized that I was really tired of people popping on and off of my property like it was a train station on the supernatural railroad.

Quinn's hands became clawed. A growl rumbled deep in his chest.

"No!" I said, willing them to listen to me. This was the day from hell.

"You're not even on the list, vampire," Quinn said, and his voice wasn't really his any longer. "You're the past."

"I will make you a rug on my floor," Bill said, and his voice was colder and smoother than ever, like ice on glass.

The two idiots launched themselves at each other.

I started to jump in to stop them, but the functioning part of my brain told me that would be suicidal. I thought,My grass is going to get sprinkled by a little more blood this evening . What I should have been thinking was,I need to get the hell out of the way . In fact, I should have run inside and locked the door and left them to it.

But that was hindsight. Actually, what I did was stand there for a moment, hands fluttering uselessly, trying to figure out how to separate them ... and then the two grappling figures lurched and staggered. Quinn threw Bill away from him with all his strength. Bill cannoned into me with such force that I actually went up in the air an inch or two - and then, very decisively, down I came.

Chapter 10

Cold water trickled over my face and neck. I spluttered and choked as some trickled into my mouth.

"Too much?" asked a hard voice, and I pried open my eyes to see Eric. We were in my room, and only the bathroom light was on.

"Enough," I said. The mattress shifted as Eric got up to carry the washrag into my bathroom. In a second he was back with a hand towel, dabbing at my face and neck. My pillow was damp, but I decided not to worry about it. The house was cooling off now that the sun was gone, and I was lying there in my underwear. "Cold," I said. "Where are my clothes?"

"Stained," Eric said. There was a blanket at the end of the bed, and he pulled it up over me. He turned his back to me for a moment, and I heard his shoes hit the floor. Then he got under the blanket with me and propped himself up on an elbow. He was looking down at me. His back was to the light coming from the bathroom, so I couldn't discern his expression. "Do you love him?" he said.

"Are they alive?" No point in deciding if I loved Quinn or not if he was dead, right? Or maybe Eric meant Bill. I couldn't decide. I realized I felt a little odd.

"Quinn drove away with a few broken ribs and a broken jaw," Eric told me, his voice quite neutral. "Bill will heal tonight, if he hasn't already."

I considered that. "I guess you had something to do with Bill being here?"

"I knew when Quinn disobeyed our ruling. He was sighted within half an hour of crossing into my area. And Bill was the closest vampire to send to your house. His task was to make sure you weren't being harassed while I made my way here. He took his role a little too seriously. I'm sorry you were hurt," Eric said, his voice stiff. He wasn't used to making apologies, and I smiled in the darkness. It was almost impossible for me to feel anxious, I noticed in a distant kind of way. And yet surely I ought to be upset and angry?

"So they stopped fighting when I hit the ground, I hope."

"Yes, the collision ended the ... scuffle."

"And Quinn left on his own?" I ran my tongue around my mouth, which tasted funny: kind of sharp and metallic.

"Yes, he did. I told him I would take care of you. He knew he'd crossed too many lines by coming to see you, since I'd told him not to enter my area. Bill was less accepting, but I made him return to his house."

Typical sheriff behavior. "Did you give me some of your blood?" I asked.

Eric nodded quite casually. "You had been knocked unconscious," he said. "And I know that is serious. I wanted you to feel well. It was my fault."

I sighed. "Mr. High-handed," I muttered.

"Explain. I don't know this term."

"It means someone who thinks he knows what's best for everyone. He makes decisions for them without asking them." Maybe I had put a personal spin on the term, but so what?

"Then I am high-handed," Eric said with no shame whatsoever. "I'm also very ..." He dipped his head and kissed me slowly, leisurely.

"Horny," I said.

"Exactly," he said, and kissed me again. "I've worked with my new masters. I've shored up my authority. I can have my own life now. It's time I claimed what is mine."

I'd told myself I'd make up my own mind, no matter how Eric and I were tied by our blood exchanges. After all, I still had free will. But whether or not the inclination had been planted by Eric's blood donation, I found that my body was strongly in favor of returning the kiss and of trailing the palm of my hand down Eric's broad back. Through the fabric of his shirt, I could feel the muscles and tendons and the bones of his spine as they moved. My hands seemed to remember the map of Eric's topography even as my lips remembered the way he kissed. We went on this way very slowly for a few minutes as he reacquainted himself with me.

"Do you really remember?" I asked him. "Do you really remember staying with me before? Do you remember what it felt like?"

"Oh, yes," he said, "I remember." He had my bra unhooked before I'd even realized his hand was back there. "How could I forget these?" he said, his hair falling around his face as his mouth fastened on my breast. I felt the tiny sting of his fangs and the sharp pleasure of his mouth. I touched the fly of his jeans, brushed my hand against the bulge inside, and suddenly the moment for being tentative was over.

His jeans were off, and his shirt, too, and my panties vanished. His long cool body pressed full-length against my warm one. He kissed me over and over in a kind of frenzy. He made a hungry noise, and I echoed it. His fingers probed me, fluttering against the hard nub in a way that made me squirm.

"Eric," I said, trying to position myself underneath him. "Now."

He said, "Oh, yes." He slid inside as if he'd never been gone, as if we'd made love every night for the past year. "This is best," he whispered, and his voice had that accent I caught occasionally, that hint of a time and place that were so far distant I could not imagine them. "This is best ," he said again. "This is right ." He pulled out a little, and I made a choked noise.

"Not hurting?" he asked.

"Not hardly," I said.

"I am too big for some."

"Bring it on," I said.

He shoved forward.

"Omigod," I said through clenched teeth. My fingers were digging hard into the muscles of his arms. "Yes, again!" He was as deep inside me as he could get without an operation, and he glowed above me, his white skin shining in the darkness of the room. He said something in a language I didn't recognize; after a long moment, he repeated it. And then he began to move quicker and quicker until I thought I would be pounded into pieces, but I kept up. I kept up, until I saw his fangs glisten as he bent over me. When he bit my shoulder, I left my body for a minute. I'd never felt anything so good. I didn't have enough breath to scream or even speak. My arms were around Eric's back, and I felt him shudder all over as he had his own good minute.

I was so shaken I couldn't have talked if my life had depended on it. We lay in silence, exhausted. I didn't mind his weight on me. I felt safe.

He licked the bite mark in a lazy way, and I smiled into the darkness. I stroked his back as if I were soothing an animal. I felt better than I'd felt in months. It had been a while since I'd had sex, and this was like ...gourmet sex. Even now I felt little jolts of pleasure ripple out from the epicenter of the orgasm.

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