Home > Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(6)

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)(6)
Author: Charlaine Harris

"I've been here two months," Basim said. "I'm learning to like it." Though he looked exotic, he had only the faintest trace of an accent, and his English was much more precise than mine. Going strictly by the haircut, he was definitely not in the armed services.

"Basim left his old pack in Houston," Alcide said easily, "and we're glad he's become one of us." "We" didn't include Ham Bond. I might not be able to read Ham's mind as clearly as if he were human, but he was no big Basim fan. Neither was Jannalynn, who seemed to regard Basim with both lust and resentment. There was lots of lust going around the pack this evening. Looking at Basim and Alcide, that wasn't too hard to understand.

"You have a good time here tonight, Basim, Annabelle," I said, before turning to Alcide. "Alcide, my property extends maybe an acre beyond the stream to the east, about five acres south to the dirt track that leads to the oil well, and north around the back of the cemetery."

The packleader nodded. "I called Bill last night, and he's okay with us spilling over into his woods. He's not going to be at home until dawn, so we won't be bothering him. What about you, Sookie? Are you going into Shreveport tonight, or staying home?"

"I'll be here. If you need me for anything, just come to the door." I smiled at all of them.

Annabelle thought, Not effing likely, Blondie.

"But you might need the phone," I said to her, and she jumped. "Or some first aid. After all, Annabelle, you never know what you're going to meet up with." Though I'd started out smiling, there was no smile on my face by the time I finished.

People should make an effort to be polite.

"Thanks again for the use of your land. We'll be heading into the woods," Alcide said quickly. The dark was falling steadily, and I could see the other Weres drifting into the cover of the trees. One of the women threw back her head and yipped. Basim's eyes were rounder and more golden already.

"Have a good night," I said, as I stepped back and latched the screen door. The three Weres started down the front steps. Alcide's voice drifted back. He was saying, "I told you she was telepathic," to Annabelle as they went across the driveway into the woods, trailed by Ham. Jannalynn suddenly started running for the tree line, she was so anxious to change. But it was Basim who glanced back at me as I pushed the wooden door shut. It was the kind of look you get from the animals in the zoo.

And then it was full dark.

The Weres were a bit of a disappointment. They didn't make as much noise as I'd thought they would. I stayed in the house, of course, all locked up, and I pulled my curtains closed, which wasn't my normal habit. After all, I lived in the middle of the woods. I watched a little television, and I read some. Somewhat later, while I was brushing my teeth, I heard howling. I thought it came from far off, probably near the eastern edge of my property.

Early the next morning, just as dawn was breaking, I woke up because I heard car engines. The Weres were taking their departure. I almost turned over to go back to sleep, but I realized I had to get up and pay a trip to the bathroom. After I took care of that, I was a little more awake. I padded down the hall to the living room and peeked through a gap in the front curtains. Out of the tree line came Ham Bond, a bit worse for wear. He was talking to Alcide. Their trucks were the only remaining vehicles. Annabelle appeared a moment after.

As I looked at the early morning light falling across the dewy grass, the three Weres walked across the lawn slowly, clothed as they had been the night before, but carrying their shoes. They looked exhausted but happy. Their clothes weren't bloody, but their faces and arms were speckled. They'd had a successful hunt. I had a Bambi twinge, but I suppressed it. This was little different from going up in a blind with a rifle.

A few seconds later Basim emerged from the woods. In the slanted light, he looked like a woodland creature, his wild hair full of bits of leaf and twig. There was something ancient about Basim al Saud. I had to wonder how he'd become a werewolf in wolfless Arabia. As I watched, Basim turned away from the other three and came to my front porch. He knocked, low and firm.

I counted to ten and opened the door. I tried not to stare at the blood. You could tell he'd washed his face in the stream, but he'd missed his neck.

"Miss Stackhouse, good morning," Basim said courteously. "Alcide says I should tell you that other creatures have been passing through your property."

I could feel the pucker between my eyes as I frowned. "What kind, Basim?"

"At least one was a fairy," he said. "Possibly more than one fairy, but one for sure."

That was incredible for about six reasons. "Are these tracks ... or traces ... fresh? Or a few weeks old?"

"Very fresh," he said. "And the scent of vampire is strong, too. That's a bad mixture."

"That's unpleasant news, but something I needed to know. Thanks for telling me."

"And there's a body."

I stared at him, willing my face to stillness. I have a lot of practice at not showing what I'm thinking; any telepath has to be good at that. "How old a body?" I asked, when I was sure I had my voice under control.

"Around a year and a half, maybe a little less." Basim wasn't making a big deal about finding a body. He was strictly letting me know it was there. "It's quite far back, buried very deeply."

I didn't say anything. Geez Louise, must be Debbie Pelt. Since Eric had recovered his memory of that night, that's one thing I'd never asked him: where he'd buried her body after I'd killed her.

Basim's dark eyes examined me with great attention. "Alcide wants you to call if you need help or advice," he said finally.

"Tell Alcide I appreciate the offer. And thanks again for letting me know."

He nodded, and then he was halfway back to the truck, where Annabelle sat with her head resting on Alcide's shoulder.

I raised my hand to them as Alcide started the truck, and I shut my door firmly as they left.

I had a lot to think about.

Chapter 2

I went back to the kitchen, looking forward to my coffee and a slice of the applesauce bread Halleigh Bellefleur had dropped off at the bar the day before. She was a nice young woman, and I was real glad she and Andy were expecting a baby. I'd heard that Andy's grandmother, ancient Mrs. Caroline Bellefleur, was beside herself with delight, and I didn't doubt it for a moment. I tried to think about good things, like Halleigh's baby, Tara's pregnancy, and the last night I'd spent with Eric; but the disturbing news Basim had told me gnawed at me all morning.

Of all the ideas I had, calling the Renard Parish's sheriff's office was the one that got almost zero brain time. There was no way I could tell them why I was worried. The Weres were out, and there was nothing illegal about letting them hunt on my land. But I couldn't picture myself telling Sheriff Dearborn that a Were had told me fairies had been crossing my property.

Here's the thing. As far as I'd known until this moment, all the fairies except my cousin Claude had been barred from the human world. At least, all the fairies in America. I'd never wondered about those in other countries, and now I closed my eyes and winced at my own stupidity. My great-grandfather Niall had closed all the portals between the fae world and ours. At least, that was what he'd told me he was going to do. And I'd assumed they were all gone, except for Claude, who'd lived among humans as long as I'd known him. So how come there'd been a fairy tromping through my woods?

And who could I ask for advice on the situation? I couldn't just sit on my hands and do nothing. My great-grandfather had been looking for the self-loathing half-human renegade Dermot until the moment he closed the portal. I needed to face the possibility that Dermot, who was simply insane, had been left in the human world. However it had come about, I had to believe that fae proximity to my house couldn't be a good thing. I needed to talk to someone about this.

I might confide in Eric, since he was my lover, or in Sam, because he was my friend, or even in Bill, because his land shared a boundary with mine and he would also be concerned. Or I could talk to Claude, see if he'd give me any insight into the situation. I sat at the table with my coffee and my hunk of applesauce bread, too distracted to read or turn on the radio to catch the news. I finished one cup of coffee and started another. I showered, in an automatic sort of way, and made my bed and did all my usual morning tasks.

Finally, I sat down at the computer I'd brought home from my cousin Hadley's New Orleans apartment, and I checked my e-mail. I'm not methodical about doing this. I know very few people who might send me e-mail, and I simply haven't gotten into the habit of looking at my computer every day.

I had several messages. I didn't recognize the return address on the first one. I moved the mouse to click on it.

A knock at the back door made me jump like a frog.

I pushed back my chair. After a second's hesitation, I got the shotgun from the closet in the front room. Then I went to the back door and peeked through the new peephole. "Speak of the devil," I muttered.

This day was just full of surprises, and it wasn't even ten o'clock.

I put down the shotgun and opened the door. "Claude," I said. "Come in. You want a drink? I've got Coke and coffee and orange juice."

I noticed that Claude had the strap of a big tote bag slung over his shoulder. From its solid appearance, the bag was jammed with clothes. I didn't remember inviting him to a slumber party.

He came in, looking serious and somehow unhappy. Claude had been in the house before, but not often, and he looked around at my kitchen. The kitchen happened to be new because the old kitchen had burned down, so I had shiny appliances and everything still looked squared away and level.

"Sookie, I can't stay in our house by myself any longer. Can I bunk with you for a while, Cousin?"

I tried to pick my jaw up off the floor before he noticed how shocked I was - first, that Claude had confessed he needed help; second, that he confessed it to me; and third, that Claude would stay in the same house with me when he normally thought of me as about on the same level as a beetle. I'm a human and I'm a woman, so I've got two strikes against me as far as Claude's concerned. Plus, of course, there was the whole issue of Claudine dying in my defense.

"Claude," I said, trying to sound only sympathetic, "have a seat. What's wrong?" I glanced at the shotgun, unaccountably glad it was within reach.

Claude gave it only a casual glance. After a moment, he put down his bag and simply stood there, as if he couldn't figure out what to do next.

It seemed surreal to be in my kitchen alone with my fairy cousin. Though he had apparently made the choice to continue living among humans, he was far from warm and fuzzy about them. Claude, albeit physically beautiful, was an indiscriminate jerk, as far as I'd observed. But he'd gotten his ears surgically altered to look human, so he wouldn't have to expend his energy perpetuating a human appearance. And as far as I knew, Claude's sexual connections had always been with human males.

"You're still living in the house you shared with your sisters?" It was a prosaic three-bedroom ranch in Monroe.

"Yes."

Okay. I was looking for a little expansion on the theme here. "The bars aren't keeping you occupied?" Between owning and operating two strip clubs - Hooligans and a new place he'd just taken over - and performing at Hooligans at least once a week, I'd imagined Claude to be both busy and well-to-do. Since he was handsome to the nth degree, he made a lot of money in tips, and the occasional modeling job boosted his income. Claude could make even the most staid grandmother drool. Being in the same room with someone so gorgeous gave women a contact high ... until he opened his mouth. Plus, he no longer had to share the club income with his sister.

"I'm busy. And I don't lack for money. But without the company of my own kind ... I feel I'm starving."

"Are you serious?" I said without thinking, and then I could have kicked myself. But Claude needing me (or anyone, for that matter) seemed so unlikely. His request to stay with me was wholly unexpected and unwelcome.

But my gran chided me mentally. I was looking at a member of my family, one of the few still living and/or accessible to me. My relationship with my great-grandfather Niall had ended when he'd retreated into Faery and pulled the door shut behind him. Though Jason and I had mended our fences, my brother very much led his own life. My mom, my dad, and my grandmother were dead, my aunt Linda and my cousin Hadley were dead, and I rarely saw Hadley's little son.

I had depressed the hell out of myself in the space of a minute.

"Do I have enough fairy in me to be any help to you?" That was all I could think of to say.

"Yes," he said very simply. "I already feel better." This seemed a weird echo of my conversation with Bill. Claude halfway smiled. If Claude looked incredible when he was unhappy, he looked divine when he smiled. "Since you've been in the company of fairies, it's accentuated your streak of fairy essence. By the way, I have a letter for you."

"Who from?"

"Niall."

"How's that possible? I understood the fae world was shut off now."

"He has his ways," Claude said evasively. "He's the only prince now, and very powerful."

He has his ways. "Humph," I said. "Okay, let's see it."

Claude pulled an envelope out of his overnight bag. It was buff-colored and sealed with a blue blob of wax. In the wax was imprinted a bird, its wings spread in flight.

"So there's a fairy mailbox," I said. "And you can send and receive letters?"

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