Home > Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(5)

Dead and Gone (Sookie Stackhouse #9)(5)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"Let's all step back and take a deep breath," I said, though I was the only person in the room who was breathing. I held up my hand as though they'd been advancing on me and my "halt" gesture would stop them. "Eric?" I tried to pack everything into my voice, but one word can't carry that much baggage.

"This is for your protection, dear heart," he said. He was trying to be serene so that some of that serenity would run through our bond and drown my agitation.

But a few gallons of serenity wouldn't calm me down. "This is so high-handed," I said in a choked voice. "This is sheer gall. How could you do this without talking to me about it? How could you think I would let you commit me to something without talking about it first? We haven't even seen each other in months."

"I've been a little busy here. I'd hoped your sense of self-preservation would kick in," Eric said, which was honest, if not tactful. "Can you doubt that I want what's best for you?"

"I don't doubt that you want what you think is best for me," I said. "And I don't doubt that that marches right along with what you think is good for you ."

Victor laughed. "She knows you well, Eric," he said, and we both glared at him. "Ooops," he said, and pretended to zip his mouth shut.

"Eric, I'm going home. We'll talk about this soon, but I don't know when. I'm running the bar while Sam's gone. There's trouble in his family."

"But Clancy said the announcement went well in Bon Temps."

"Yes, it did, but at Sam's own family home in Texas, it didn't go so well."

Eric looked disgusted. "I did my best to help. I sent at least one of my people around to every public venue. I went to watch Alcide himself shift at the Shamrock Casino."

"That went okay?" I asked, temporarily sidetracked.

"Yes, only a few drunkards acted up. They were quelled quite easily. One woman even offered herself to Alcide in his wolf form."

"Ewww," I said, and got up, grabbing my purse. He'd distracted me long enough.

Eric rose and vaulted over the desk in a movement that was as startling as it was impressive. Suddenly he was right in front of me, and his arms went around me, and he held me to him. It took everything I had to keep my back stiff, to keep from relaxing against him. It's hard to explain how the bond made me feel. No matter how furious I got with Eric, I was happier when I was with him. It wasn't that I yearned for him uncontrollably when we were separated; it was just that I was aware of him. All the time. I wondered if it was the same for him.

"Tomorrow night?" he said, releasing me.

"If I can get away. We have a lot to talk about." I gave Victor a stiff nod, and I left. I glanced back once to see the knife shining against the black velvet as it lay on Eric's desk.

I knew how Eric had gotten the knife. He'd simply kept it rather than returning it to Quinn, who'd been in charge of the wedding ritual between two vampires, a ceremony I'd witnessed in Rhodes. Eric, who was some kind of mail-order priest, had officiated at the service, and afterward, he'd evidently kept the knife just on the chance it would come in handy. How he'd retrieved it from the wreck of the hotel, I didn't know. Maybe he'd gone back during the night, after the daytime explosion. Maybe he'd sent Pam. But he'd gotten it, and now he'd used it to pledge me to him.

And thanks to my own dazed affection ... or warmth ... or infatuation ... for the Viking vampire, I had done exactly what he'd asked without consulting my common sense.

I didn't know who I was angrier with - myself, or Eric.

Chapter 4

I spent a restless night. I would think of Eric and feel the warm rush of joy, and then think of Eric and want to punch him in the face. I thought of Bill, the first man I'd ever dated more than once, the first man I'd ever gone to bed with; when I remembered his cool voice and body, his contained calm, and contrasted it with Eric, I couldn't believe I had fallen for two such different males, especially when my all-too-brief episode with Quinn was factored in. Quinn had been warm-blooded in every respect, and impulsive, and kind to me, and yet so scarred by his past, he hadn't shared it with me - which, in my view, had led to our relationship being ruined. I'd dated Alcide Herveaux, pack leader, too, but it had never gone further.

Sookie Stackhouse's All-Male Revue.

Don't you just hate nights like that, when you think over every mistake you've made, every hurt you've received, every bit of meanness you've dealt out? There's no profit in it, no point to it, and you need sleep. But that night, men were on my mind, and not in a happy way.

When I'd exhausted the topic of my problems with the male sex, I launched into worrying about the responsibility of the bar. I finally got three hours' sleep after I made myself admit that there was no way I could run Sam's business into the ground in a few days.

Sam called the next morning while I was still at home to tell me his mother was better and was definitely going to recover. His brother and sister were now dealing with the family revelations in a much calmer way. Don, of course, was still in jail.

"If she keeps improving, I may be able to start back in a couple of days," he said. "Or even sooner. Of course, the doctors keep telling us they can't believe how fast she's healing." He sighed. "At least we don't have to conceal that now."

"How's your mom handling the emotional part?" I asked.

"She's quit insisting they should release him. And since she had a frank talk with the three of us, she's admitting she and Don might have to get a divorce," he said. "She's not happy about the idea, but I don't know if you can completely reconcile with someone who's shot you."

Though I'd answered the phone by my bed and was still comfortably prone, I found it impossible to go back to sleep after we'd hung up. I'd hated to hear the pain in Sam's voice. Sam had enough to fret about without troubling him with my problems, so I hadn't even seriously considered bringing up the knife incident, though I would have been relieved to share my worries with Sam.

I was up and dressed by eight o'clock, early for me. Though I was moving and thinking, I felt as rumpled and wrinkled as my bedsheets. I wished someone could yank me smooth and orderly, the way I yanked the sheets. Amelia was home (I checked to see if her car was parked out back when I made the coffee) and I'd glimpsed Octavia shuffling into the hall bathroom, so it was shaping up to be a typical morning, as mornings went nowadays at my house.

The pattern was broken by a knocking at the front door. Usually I'm warned by the crunching of the gravel driveway, but in my heavier-than-usual morning fog, I'd missed it.

I looked through the peephole to see a man and a woman, both dressed in proper business suits. They didn't look like Jehovah's Witnesses or home invaders. I reached out to them mentally and found no hostility or anger, only curiosity.

I opened the door. I smiled brilliantly. "Can I help you?" I said. The cold air gusted around my bare feet.

The woman, who was probably in her early forties, smiled back. Her brown hair had a little gray in it and was cut in a simple chin-length style. She'd parted it very precisely. Her pantsuit was charcoal with a black sweater underneath, and her shoes were black. She carried a black bag, which wasn't exactly like a purse, more like a laptop case.

She held out her hand to shake, and when I touched her, I knew more. It was hard to keep the shock off my face. "I'm from the New Orleans office of the FBI," she said, which is a bombshell of an opener for your average conversation. "I'm Agent Sara Weiss. This is Special Agent Tom Lattesta from our Rhodes office."

"You're here about ... ?" I kept my face pleasantly blank.

"May we come in? Tom's come all the way from Rhodes to talk to you, and we're letting all your warm air out."

"Sure," I said, though I was far from sure. I was trying hard to get a fix on their intent, but it wasn't easy. I could only tell they weren't there to arrest me or anything drastic like that.

"Is this a convenient time?" Agent Weiss asked. She implied she'd be delighted to come back later, though I knew that wasn't true.

"This is as good as any," I said. My grandmother would have given me a sharp look for my ungraciousness, but then, Gran had never been questioned by the FBI. This was not exactly a social call. "I do have to leave for work pretty soon," I added to give myself an escape hatch.

"That's bad news, about your boss's mother," Lattesta said. "Did the big announcement go well at your bar?" From his accent, I could tell he'd been born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and from his knowledge of Sam's whereabouts and identity, he'd done his homework, down to investigating the place I worked.

The sick feeling that had started up in my stomach intensified. I had a moment of wanting Eric there so badly it made me a little dizzy, and then I looked out the window at the sunshine and felt only anger at my own longing.This is what you get, I told myself.

"Having werewolves around makes the world more interesting, doesn't it?" I said. The smile popped onto my face, the smile that said I was really strained. "I'll take your coats. Please, have a seat." I indicated the couch, and they settled on it. "Can I get you some coffee or some iced tea?" I said, thanking Gran's training for keeping the words flowing.

"Oh," Weiss said. "Some iced tea would be wonderful. I know it's cold outside, but I drink it year-round. I'm a southern woman born and bred."

And laying it on a little too thick, in my opinion. I didn't think Weiss would become my best friend, and I didn't plan to swap any recipes. "You?" I looked at Lattesta.

"Sure, great," he said.

"Sweet or unsweet?" Lattesta thought it would be fun to have the famous southern sweet tea, and Weiss accepted sweet as a matter of bonding. "Let me tell my roommates we have company," I said, and I called up the stairs, "Amelia! The FBI is here!"

"I'll be down in a minute," she called back, not sounding surprised at all. I knew she'd been standing at the top of the stairs listening to every word.

And here came Octavia in her favorite green pants and striped long-sleeved shirt, looking as dignified and sweet as an elderly white-haired black woman can look. Ruby Dee has nothing on Octavia.

"Hello," she said, beaming. Though she looked like everyone's favorite granny, Octavia was a powerful witch who could cast spells with almost surgical precision. She'd had a lifetime of practice in concealing her ability. "Sookie didn't tell us she was expecting company, or we would have cleaned up the house." Octavia beamed some more. She swept a hand to indicate the spotless living room. It would never be featured in Southern Living , but it was clean, by golly.

"Looks great to me," Weiss said respectfully. "I wish my house looked this neat." She was telling the truth. Weiss had two teenagers and a husband and three dogs. I felt a lot of sympathy - and maybe some envy - for Agent Weiss.

"Sookie, I'll bring tea for your guests while you talk," Octavia said in her sweetest voice. "You just sit down and visit a spell." The agents were settled on the couch and looking around the shabby living room with interest when she returned with napkins and two glasses of sweet tea, ice rattling in a pleasant way. I rose from the chair opposite the couch to put napkins in front of them, and Octavia placed the glasses on the napkins. Lattesta took a large swallow. The corner of Octavia's mouth twitched just a little when he made a startled face and then did his best to amend his expression to pleased surprise.

"What did you-all want to ask me?" Time to get down to brass tacks. I smiled at them brightly, my hands folded in my lap, my feet parallel, and my knees clamped together.

Lattesta had brought in a briefcase, and now he put it on the coffee table and opened it. He extracted a picture and handed it to me. It had been taken in the middle of the afternoon in the city of Rhodes a few months before. The picture was clear enough, though the air around the people in it was blighted with the clouds of dust that had billowed up from the collapsed Pyramid of Gizeh.

I kept my eyes on the picture, I kept my face smiling, but I couldn't stop my heart from sinking into my feet.

In the picture, Barry the Bellboy and I were standing together in the rubble of the Pyramid, the vampire hotel that a splinter Fellowship group had blown up the previous October. I was somewhat more recognizable than my companion, because Barry was standing in profile. I was facing the camera, unaware of it, my eyes on Barry's face. We were both covered in dirt and blood, ash and dust.

"That's you, Miss Stackhouse," Lattesta said.

"Yes, it is." Pointless to deny the woman in the picture was me, but I sure would have loved to have done so. Looking at the picture made me feel sick because it forced me to remember that day all too clearly.

"So you were staying at the Pyramid at the time of the explosion?"

"Yes, I was."

"You were there in the employ of Sophie-Anne Leclerq, a vampire businesswoman. The so-called Queen of Louisiana."

I started to tell him there had been no "so-called" about it, but discretion blocked those words. "I flew up there with her," I said instead.

"And Sophie-Anne Leclerq sustained severe injuries in the blast?"

"I understand she did."

"You didn't see her after the explosion?"

"No."

"Who is this man standing with you in the picture?"

Lattesta hadn't identified Barry. I had to keep my shoulders stiff so they wouldn't sag with relief. I shrugged. "He came up to me after the blast," I said. "We were in better shape than most, so we helped search for survivors." Truth, but not the whole truth. I'd known Barry for months before I'd encountered him at the convention at the Pyramid. He'd been there in the service of the King of Texas. I wondered how much about the vamp hierarchy the FBI actually knew.

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