Home > Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(2)

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(2)
Author: Charlaine Harris

The whole time we'd been talking, I'd been waiting for him to make his move.

I realized I wanted to live.

MARCH

THE SECOND WEEK

JB said, "Raise your arm all the way up, Sookie!" His handsome face was creased with concentration. Holding the five-pound weight, I slowly lifted my left arm. Geez Louise, it hurt. Same with the right.

"Okay, now the legs," JB said, when my arms were shaking with strain. JB wasn't a licensed physical therapist, but he was a personal trainer, so he'd had practical experience helping people get over various injuries. Maybe he'd never faced an assortment like mine, since I'd been bitten, cut, and tortured. But I hadn't had to explain the details to JB, and he wouldn't notice that my injuries were far from typical of those incurred in a car accident. I didn't want any speculation going around Bon Temps about my physical problems - so I made the occasional visits to Dr. Amy Ludwig, who looked suspiciously like a hobbit, and I enlisted the help of JB du Rone, who was a good trainer but dumb as a box of rocks.

JB's wife, my friend Tara, was sitting on one of the weight benches. She was reading What to Expect When You're Expecting. Tara, almost five months pregnant, was determined to be the best mother she could possibly be. Since JB was willing but not bright, Tara was assuming the role of Most Responsible Parent. She'd earned her high school spending money as a babysitter, which gave her some experience in child care. She was frowning as she turned the pages, a look familiar to me from our school years.

"Have you picked a doctor yet?" I said, after I'd finished my leg lifts. My quads were screaming, particularly the damaged one in my left leg. We were in the gym where JB worked, and it was after hours, because I wasn't a member. JB's boss had okayed the temporary arrangement to keep JB happy. JB was a huge asset to the gym; since he'd started working, new female clients had increased by a noticeable percentage.

"I think so," said Tara. "There were four choices in this area, and we interviewed all of them. I've had my first appointment with Dr. Dinwiddie, here in Clarice. I know it's a little hospital, but I'm not high risk, and it's so close."

Clarice was just a few miles from Bon Temps, where we all lived. You could get from my house to the gym in less than twenty minutes.

"I hear good things about him," I said, the pain in my quads making stuff start to slide around inside my head. My forehead broke out in a clammy sweat. I was used to thinking of myself as a fit woman, and mostly I'd been a happy one. There were days now when it was all I could do to get out of bed and get in to work.

"Sook," JB said, "look at the weight on here." He was grinning at me.

For the first time, I registered that I'd done ten extensions with ten more pounds than I'd been using.

I smiled back at him. It didn't last long, but I knew I'd done something good.

"Maybe you'll babysit for us sometime," Tara said. "We'll teach the baby to call you Aunt Sookie."

I'd be a courtesy aunt. I'd get to take care of a baby. They trusted me. I found myself planning on a future.

MARCH

THE SAME WEEK

I spent the next night with Eric. As I did at least three or four times a week, I woke up panting, filled with terror, completely at sea. I held on to him as if the storm would sweep me away unless he was my anchor. I was already crying when I woke. It wasn't the first time this had happened, but this time he wept with me, bloody tears that streaked the whiteness of his face in a startling way.

"Don't," I begged him. I had been trying so hard to act like my old self when I was with him. Of course, he knew differently. Tonight I could feel his resolve. Eric had something to say to me, and he was going to tell me whether I wanted to listen or not.

"I could feel your fear and your pain that night," he said, in a choked voice. "But I couldn't come to you."

Finally, he was telling me something I had been waiting to learn. "Why not?" I said, trying very hard to keep my voice level. This may seem incredible, but I had been in such shaky condition I hadn't dared to ask him.

"Victor wouldn't let me leave," he said. Victor Madden was Eric's boss; he'd been appointed by Felipe de Castro, King of Nevada, to oversee the conquered kingdom of Louisiana.

My initial reaction to Eric's explanation was bitter disappointment. I'd heard this story before. A vampire more powerful than me made me do it: Bill's excuse for going back to his maker, Lorena, revisited. "Sure," I said. I turned over and lay with my back to him. I felt the cold, creeping misery of disillusionment. I decided to pull my clothes on, to drive back to Bon Temps, as soon as I gathered the energy. The tension, the frustration, the rage in Eric was sapping me.

"Victor's people chained me with silver," Eric said behind me. "It burned me everywhere."

"Literally." I tried not to sound as skeptical as I felt.

"Yes, literally. I knew something was happening with you. Victor was at Fangtasia that night, as if he knew ahead of time he should be there. When Bill called to tell me you'd been taken, I managed to call Niall before three of Victor's people chained me to the wall. When I - protested - Victor said he couldn't allow me to take sides in the Fae War. He said that no matter what happened to you, I couldn't get involved."

Rage made Eric fall silent for a long moment. It poured through me like a burning, icy stream. He resumed his story in a choked voice.

"Pam was also seized and isolated by Victor's people, though they didn't chain her." Pam was Eric's second-in-command. "Since Bill was in Bon Temps, he was able to ignore Victor's phone messages. Niall met Bill at your house to track you. Bill had heard of Lochlan and Neave. We all had. We knew time would run out for you." I still had my back to Eric, but I was listening to more than his voice. Grief, anger, desperation.

"How did you get out of the chains?" I asked the dark.

"I reminded Victor that Felipe had promised you protection, promised it to you personally. Victor pretended not to believe me." I could feel the bed move as Eric threw himself back against the pillows. "Some of the vampires were strong and honorable enough to remember they were pledged to Felipe, not Victor. Though they wouldn't defy Victor to his face, behind his back they let Pam call our new king. When she had Felipe on the line, she explained to him that you and I had married. Then she demanded Victor take the telephone and talk to Felipe. Victor didn't dare to refuse. Felipe ordered Victor to let me go." A few months ago, Felipe de Castro had become the king of Nevada, Louisiana, and Arkansas. He was powerful, old, and very crafty. And he owed me big-time.

"Did Felipe punish Victor?" Hope springs eternal.

"There's the rub," Eric said. Somewhere along the line, my Viking honey had read Shakespeare. "Victor claimed he'd temporarily forgotten our marriage." Even if I sometimes tried to forget it myself, that made me angry. Victor had been sitting right there in Eric's office when I'd handed the ceremonial knife to Eric - in complete ignorance that my action constituted a marriage, vampire-style. I might have been ignorant, but Victor certainly wasn't. "Victor told our king that I was lying in an attempt to save my human lover from the fae. He said vampire lives must not be lost in the rescue of a human. He told Felipe that he hadn't believed Pam and me when we'd told him Felipe had promised you protection after you saved him from Sigebert."

I rolled over to face Eric, and the bit of moonlight coming in the window painted him in shades of dark and silver. In my brief experience of the powerful vampire who'd maneuvered himself into a position of great power, Felipe was absolutely no fool. "Incredible. Why didn't Felipe kill Victor?" I asked.

"I've given that a lot of thought, of course. I think Felipe has to pretend he believes Victor. I think Felipe realizes that in making Victor his lieutenant in charge of the whole state of Louisiana, he has inflated Victor's ambitions to the point of indecency."

It was possible to look at Eric objectively, I discovered, while I was thinking over what he'd said. My trust had gotten me burned in the past, and I wasn't going to get too close to the fire this time without careful consideration. It was one thing to enjoy laughing with Eric or to look forward to the times when we twined together in the dark. It was another thing to trust him with more fragile emotions. I was really not into trust right now.

"You were upset when you came to the hospital," I said indirectly. When I'd wakened in the old factory Dr. Ludwig was using as a field hospital, my injuries had been so painful I'd thought dying might prove easier than living. Bill, who had saved me, had been poisoned with a bite from Neave's silver teeth. His survival had been up in the air. The mortally wounded Tray Dawson, Amelia's werewolf lover, had hung on long enough to die by the sword when Breandan's forces stormed the hospital.

"While you were with Neave and Lochlan, I suffered with you," he said, meeting my eyes directly. "I hurt with you. I bled with you - not only because we're bonded, but because of the love I have for you."

I raised a skeptical eyebrow. I couldn't help it, though I could feel that he meant what he was saying. I was just willing to believe that Eric would have come to my help much faster, if he could have. I was willing to believe that he'd heard the echo of the horror of my time with the fae torturers.

But my pain and blood and terror had been my own. He might have felt them, but from a separate place. "I believe you would have been there if you could have," I said, knowing my voice was too calm. "I really do believe that. I know you would have killed them." Eric leaned over on one elbow, and his big hand pressed my face to his chest.

I couldn't deny that I felt better since he'd brought himself to tell me. Yet I didn't feel as much better as I'd hoped, though now I knew why he hadn't come when I'd been screaming for him. I could even understand why it had taken so long for him to tell me. Helplessness was a state Eric didn't often encounter. Eric was supernatural, and he was incredibly strong, and he was a great fighter. But he was not a superhero, and he couldn't overcome several determined members of his own race. And I realized he'd given me a lot of blood when he himself was healing from the silver chains.

Finally, something inside me relaxed at the logic of his story. I believed him in my heart, not just in my head.

A red tear fell on my bare shoulder and coursed down. I swept it up on my finger, putting my finger to his lips - offering his pain back to him. I had plenty of my own.

"I think we need to kill Victor," I said, and his eyes met mine.

I'd finally succeeded in surprising Eric.

MARCH

THE THIRD WEEK

"So," my brother said. "As you can tell, me and Michele are still seeing each other." He was standing with his back to me, turning the steaks on the grill. I was sitting in a folding chair, looking out over the large pond and its dock. It was a beautiful evening, cool and brisk. I was actually content to sit there and watch him work; I was enjoying being with Jason. Michele was in the house making a salad. I could hear her singing Travis Tritt.

"I'm glad," I said, and I was sincere. It was the first time I'd been in a private setting with my brother in months. Jason had been through his own bad time. His estranged wife and their unborn child had died horribly. He'd discovered his best male friend had been in love with him, sick in love. But as I watched him grilling, listened to his girlfriend singing inside the house, I understood that Jason was a great survivor. Here my brother was, dating again, pleased at the prospect of eating steak and the mashed potato casserole I'd brought and the salad Michele was making. I had to admire Jason's determination to find pleasure in his life. My brother was not a very good role model in a lot of ways, but I could hardly point fingers.

"Michele is a good woman," I said out loud.

She was, too - though maybe not in the way our gran would have used the term. Michele Schubert was absolutely out-front about everything. You couldn't shame her, because she wouldn't do something she wouldn't own up to. Operating on the same principle of full disclosure, if Michele had a grievance with you, you knew about it. She worked in the Ford dealership's repair shop as a scheduler and clerk. It was a tribute to her efficiency that she still worked for her former father-in-law. (In fact, he'd been known to say he liked her a tad better than he liked his son, some days.)

Michele came out on the deck. She was wearing the jeans and Ford-logo polo shirt she wore to work, and her dark hair was twisted in a knot on her head. Michele liked heavy eye makeup, big purses, and high heels. She was barefoot now. "Hey, Sookie, you like ranch dressing?" she asked. "Or we got some honey mustard."

"Ranch will be fine," I said. "You need any help?"

"Nope, I'm good." Michele's cell phone went off. "Dammit, it's Pop Schubert again. That man can't find his ass with both hands."

She went back in the house, the phone to her ear.

"I worry, though, about putting her in danger," Jason said in the diffident voice he used when he was asking my opinion about something supernatural. "I mean ... that fairy, Dermot, the one that looks like me. Do you know if he's still around?"

He'd turned to face me. He was leaning against the railing of the deck he'd added to the house my mom and dad had built when they were expecting Jason. Mom and Dad hadn't gotten to enjoy it for much more than a decade. They'd died when I was seven, and when Jason had gotten old enough to live on his own (in his estimation), he'd moved out of Gran's and into this house. It had seen many a wild party for two or three years, but he'd become steadier. Tonight it was very clear to me that his recent losses had sobered him further.

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