Dead Until Dark, p.11Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
“What possibilities,” he whispered.
It was lucky I’d had extensive practice in face control. “Do you remember who the women hung around with?”
“That’s something I wouldn’t know,” he replied quickly, his face closing down. “That’s something we don’t notice, here. You won’t, either.”
“Thank you,” I said politely, realizing I’d broken a bar rule. It was dangerous to ask who left with whom, evidently. “I appreciate your taking the time.”
He looked at me consideringly. “That one,” he said, poking a finger at Dawn’s picture, “she wanted to die.”
“How do you know?”
“Everyone who comes here does, to one extent or another,” he said so matter-of-factly I could tell he took that for granted. “That is what we are. Death.”
I shuddered. Bill’s hand on my arm drew me away to a just-vacated booth. Underscoring the Indian’s pronouncement, at regular intervals wall placards proclaimed, “No biting on premises.” “No lingering in the parking lot.” “Conduct your personal business elsewhere.” “Your patronage is appreciated. Proceed at your own risk.”
Bill took the top off the bottle with one finger and took a sip. I tried not to look, failed. Of course he saw my face, and he shook his head.
“This is the reality, Sookie,” he said. “I need it to live.”
There were red stains between his teeth.
“Of course,” I said, trying to match the matter-of-fact tone of the bartender. I took a deep breath. “Do you suppose I want to die, since I came here with you?”
“I think you want to find out why other people are dying,” he said. But I wasn’t sure that was what he really believed.
I didn’t think Bill had yet realized that his personal position was precarious. I sipped my drink, felt the blossoming warmth of the gin spread through me.
A fang-banger approached the booth. I was half-hidden by Bill, but still, they’d all seen me enter with him. She was frizzy-haired and boney, with glasses that she stuffed in a purse as she walked over. She bent across the table to get her mouth about two inches from Bill.
“Hi, dangerous,” she said in what she hoped was a seductive voice. She tapped Bill’s bottled blood with a fingernail painted scarlet. “I have the real stuff.” She stroked her neck to make sure he got the point.
I took a deep breath to control my temper. I had invited Bill to this place; he hadn’t invited me. I could not comment on what he chose to do here, though I had a surprisingly vivid mental image of leaving a slap mark on this hussy’s pale, freckled cheek. I held absolutely still so I wouldn’t give Bill any cues about what I wanted.
“I have a companion,” Bill said gently.
“She doesn’t have any puncture marks on her neck,” the girl observed, acknowledging my presence with a contemptuous look. She might as well have said “Chicken!” and flapped her arms like wings. I wondered if steam was visibly coming out of my ears.
“I have a companion,” Bill said again, his voice not so gentle this time.
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” she said, her big pale eyes flashing with offense.
“Yes, I do,” he said.
She recoiled as if I’d actually done the slapping, and stomped off to her table.
To my disgust, she was only the first of four. These people, men and women, wanted to be intimate with a vampire, and they weren’t shy about it.
Bill handled all of them with calm aplomb.
“You’re not talking,” he said, after a man of forty had left, his eyes actually tearing up at Bill’s rejection.
“There’s nothing for me to say,” I replied, with great self-control.
“You could have sent them on their way. Do you want me to leave you? Is there someone else here who catches your fancy? Long Shadow, there at the bar, would love to spend time with you, I can tell.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, no!” I wouldn’t have felt safe with any of the other vampires in the bar, would have been terrified they were like Liam or Diane. Bill had turned his dark eyes to me and seemed to be waiting for me to say something else. “I do have to ask them if they’ve seen Dawn and Maudette in here, though.”
“Do you want me with you?”
“Please,” I said, and sounded more frightened than I’d wanted to. I’d meant to ask like it would be a casual pleasure to have his company.
“The vampire over there is handsome; he has scanned you twice,” he said. I almost wondered if he was doing a little tongue biting himself.
“You’re teasing me,” I said uncertainly after a moment.
The vampire he’d indicated was handsome, in fact, radiant; blond and blue-eyed, tall and broad shouldered. He was wearing boots, jeans, and a vest. Period. Kind of like the guys on the cover of romance books. He scared me to death.
“His name is Eric,” said Bill.
“How old is he?”
“Very. He’s the oldest thing in this bar.”
“Is he mean?”
“We’re all mean, Sookie. We’re all very strong and very violent.”
“Not you,” I said. I saw his face close in on itself. “You want to live mainstream. You’re not gonna do antisocial stuff.”
“Just when I think you’re too naive to walk around alone, you say something shrewd,” he said, with a short laugh. “All right, we’ll go talk to Eric.”
Eric, who, it was true, had glanced my way once or twice, was sitting with a female vampire who was just as lovely as he. They’d already repelled several advances by humans. In fact, one lovelorn young man had already crawled across the floor and kissed the female’s boot. She’d stared down at him and kicked him in the shoulder. You could tell it had been an effort for her not to kick him in the face. Tourists flinched, and a couple got up and left hurriedly, but the fang-bangers seemed to take this scene for granted.
At our approach, Eric looked up and scowled until he realized who the intruders were.
“Bill,” he said, nodding. Vampires didn’t seem to shake hands.
Instead of walking right up to the table, Bill stood a careful distance away, and since he was gripping my arm above my elbow, I had to stop, too. This seemed to be the courteous distance with this set.
“Who’s your friend?” asked the female. Though Eric had a slight accent, this woman talked pure American, and her round face and sweet features would have done credit to a milkmaid. She smiled, and her fangs ran out, kind of ruining the image.
“Hi, I’m Sookie Stackhouse,” I said politely.
“Aren’t you sweet,” Eric observed, and I hoped he was thinking of my character.
“Not especially,” I said.
Eric stared at me in surprise for a moment. Then he laughed, and the female did, too.
“Sookie, this is Pam and I am Eric,” the blond vampire said. Bill and Pam gave each other the vampire nod.
There was a pause. I would have spoken, but Bill squeezed my arm.
“My friend Sookie would like to ask a couple of questions,” Bill said.
The seated vampires exchanged bored glances.
Pam said, “Like how long are our fangs, and what kind of coffin do we sleep in?” Her voice was laced with contempt, and you could tell those were tourist questions that she hated.
“No, ma’am,” I said. I hoped Bill wouldn’t pinch my arm off. I thought I was being calm and courteous.
She stared at me with amazement.
What the hell was so startling? I was getting a little tired of this. Before Bill could give me any more painful hints, I opened my purse and took out the pictures. “I’d like to know if you’ve seen either of these women in this bar.” I wasn’t getting Jason’s picture out in front of this female. It would’ve been like putting a bowl of milk in front of a cat.
They looked at the pictures. Bill’s face was blank. Eric looked up. “I have been with this one,” he said coolly, tapping Dawn’s picture. “She liked pain.”
“Thank you very much, that’s all of your time I need to take,” I said, and tried to turn to leave. But Bill still held my arm imprisoned.
“Bill, are you quite attached to your friend?” Eric asked.
It took a second for the meaning to sink in. Eric the Hunk was asking if I could be borrowed.
“She is mine,” Bill said, but he wasn’t roaring it as he had to the nasty vampires from Monroe. Nonetheless, he sounded pretty darn firm.
Eric inclined his golden head, but he gave me the once-over again. At least he started with my face.
Bill seemed to relax. He bowed to Eric, somehow including Pam in the gesture, backed away for two steps, finally permitting me to turn my back to the couple.
“Gee whiz, what was that about?” I asked in a furious whisper. I’d have a big bruise the next day.
“They’re older than I am by centuries,” Bill said, looking very vampirey.
“Is that the pecking order? By age?”
“Pecking order,” Bill said thoughtfully. “That’s not a bad way to put it.” He almost laughed. I could tell by the way his lip twitched.
“If you had been interested, I would have been obliged to let you go with Eric,” he said, after we’d resumed our seats and had a belt from our drinks.
“No,” I said sharply.
“Why didn’t you say anything when the fang-bangers came to our table trying to seduce me away from you?”
We weren’t operating on the same wave level. Maybe social nuances weren’t something vampires cared about. I was going to have to explain something that couldn’t really bear much explaining.
I made a very unladylike sound out of sheer exasperation.
“Okay,” I said sharply. “Listen up, Bill! When you came to my house, I had to invite you. When you came here with me, I had to invite you. You haven’t asked me out. Lurking in my driveway doesn’t count, and asking me to stop by your house and leave a list of contractors doesn’t count. So it’s always been me asking you. How can I tell you that you have to stay with me, if you want to go? If those girls will let you suck their blood—or that guy, for that matter—then I don’t feel I have a right to stand in your way!”
“Eric is much better looking than I am,” Bill said. “He is more powerful, and I understand sex with him is unforgettable. He is so old he only needs to take a sip to maintain his strength. He almost never kills any more. So, as vampires go, he’s a good guy. You could still go with him. He is still looking at you. He would try his glamor on you if you were not with me.”
“I don’t want to go with Eric,” I said stubbornly.
“I don’t want to go with any of the fang-bangers,” he said.
We sat in silence for a minute or two.
“So we’re all right,” I said obscurely.
We took a few moments more, thinking this over.
“Want another drink?” he asked.
“Yes, unless you need to get back.”
“No, this is fine.”
He went to the bar. Eric’s friend Pam left, and Eric appeared to be counting my eyelashes. I tried to keep my gaze on my hands, to indicate modesty. I felt power tweaks kind of flow over me and had an uneasy feeling Eric was trying to influence me. I risked a quick peek, and sure enough he was looking at me expectantly. Was I supposed to pull off my dress? Bark like a dog? Kick Bill in the shins? Shit.
Bill came back with our drinks.
“He’s gonna know I’m not normal,” I said grimly. Bill didn’t seem to need an explanation.
“He’s breaking the rules just attempting to glamorize you after I’ve told him you’re mine,” Bill said. He sounded pretty pissed off. His voice didn’t get hotter and hotter like mine would have, but colder and colder.
“You seem to be telling everyone that,” I muttered. Without doing anything about it, I added silently.
“It’s vampire tradition,” Bill explained again. “If I pronounce you mine, no one else can try to feed on you.”
“Feed on me, that’s a delightful phrase,” I said sharply, and Bill actually had an expression of exasperation for all of two seconds.
“I’m protecting you,” he said, his voice not quite as neutral as usual.
“Had it occurred to you that I—”
And I stopped short. I closed my eyes. I counted to ten.
When I ventured a look at Bill, his eyes were fixed on my face, unblinking. I could practically hear the gears mesh.
“You—don’t need protection?” he guessed softly. “You are protecting—me?”
I didn’t say anything. I can do that.
But he took the back of my skull in his hand. He turned my head to him as though I were a puppet. (This was getting to be an annoying habit of his.) He looked so hard into my eyes that I thought I had tunnels burned into my brain.
I pursed my lips and blew into his face. “Boo,” I said. I was very uncomfortable. I glanced at the people in the bar, letting my guard down, listening.
“Boring,” I told him. “These people are boring.”
“Are they, Sookie? What are they thinking?” It was a relief to hear his voice, no matter that his voice was a little odd.
“Sex, sex, sex.” And that was true. Every single person in that bar had sex on the brain. Even the tourists, who mostly weren’t thinking about having sex with the vampires themselves, but were thinking about the fang-bangers having sex with the vampires.
“What are you thinking about, Sookie?”
“Not sex,” I answered promptly and truthfully. I’d just gotten an unpleasant shock.
“Is that so?”
“I was thinking about the chances of us getting out of here without any trouble.”
“Why were you thinking about that?”
“Because one of the tourists is a cop in disguise, and he just went to the bathroom, and he knows that a vampire is in there, sucking on the neck of a fang-banger. He’s already called the police on his little radio.”
“Out,” he said smoothly, and we were out of the booth swiftly and moving for the door. Pam had vanished, but as we passed Eric’s table, Bill gave him some sign. Just as smoothly, Eric eased from his seat and rose to his magnificent height, his stride so much longer than ours that he passed out the door first, taking the arm of the bouncer and propelling her outside with us.
As we were about to go out the door, I remembered the bartender, Long Shadow, had answered my questions willingly, so I turned and jabbed my finger in the direction of the door, unmistakably telling him to leave. He looked as alarmed as a vampire can look, and as Bill yanked me through the double doors, he was throwing down his towel.
Outside, Eric was waiting outside by his car—a Corvette, naturally.
“There’s going to be a raid,” Bill said.
“How do you know?”
Bill stuck on that one.
“Me,” I said, getting him off the hook.
Eric’s wide blue eyes shone even in the gloom of the parking lot. I was going to have to explain.
“I read a policeman’s mind,” I muttered. I snuck a look to see how Eric was taking this, and he was staring at me the same way the Monroe vampires had. Thoughtful. Hungry.
“That’s interesting,” he said. “I had a psychic once. It was incredible.”
“Did the psychic think so?” My voice was tarter than I’d meant it to be.
I could hear Bill’s indrawn breath.
Eric laughed. “For a while,” he answered ambiguously.
We heard sirens in the distance, and without further words Eric and the bouncer slid into his car and were gone into the night, the car seeming quieter than others’ cars, somehow. Bill and I buckled up hastily, and we were leaving the
We had driven a few blocks when suddenly Bill pulled into the parking lot of yet another darkened strip mall.
“What—?” I began, but got no further. Bill had unclipped my seat belt, moved the seat back, and grabbed me before I had finished my sentence. Frightened that he was angry, I pushed against him at first, but I might as well have been heaving against a tree. Then his mouth located mine, and I knew what he was.
Oh, boy, could he kiss. We might have problems communicating on some levels, but this wasn’t one of them. We had a great time for maybe five minutes. I felt all the right things moving through my body in waves. Despite the awkwardness of being in the front seat of a car, I managed to be comfortable, mostly because he was so strong and considerate. I nipped his skin with my teeth. He made a sound like a growl.
“Sookie!” His voice was ragged.
I moved away from him, maybe half an inch.
“If you do that any more I’ll have you whether you want to be had or not,” he said, and I could tell he meant it.
“You don’t want to,” I said finally, trying not to make it a question.
“Oh, yes, I want to,” and he grabbed my hand and showed me.
Suddenly, there was a bright rotating light beside us.
“The police,” I said. I could see a figure get out of the patrol car and start toward Bill’s window. “Don’t let him know you’re a vampire, Bill,” I said hastily, fearing fallout from the Fangtasia raid. Though most police forces loved having vampires join them on the job, there was a lot of prejudice against vampires on the street, especially as part of a mixed couple.
The policeman’s heavy hand rapped on the window.
Bill turned on the motor, hit the button that lowered the window. But he was silent, and I realized his fangs had not retracted. If he opened his mouth, it would be really obvious he was a vampire.
“Hello, officer,” I said.
“Good evening,” the man said, politely enough. He bent to look in the window. “You two know all the shops here are closed, right?”
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris / Fantasy / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes