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Dead until dark, p.19
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       Dead Until Dark, p.19

         Part #1 of Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
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  “Sookie,” she began helplessly, “honey, I love you. But you can’t understand, you’re not a mother. I can’t leave my kids with a vampire. I just can’t.”

  “No matter that I’m there, and I love your kids, too? No matter that Bill would never in a million years harm a child.” I slung my purse over my shoulder and stalked out the back door, leaving Arlene standing there looking torn. By golly, she ought to be upset!

  I was a little calmer by the time I turned onto the road to go home, but I was still riled up. I was worried about Jason, miffed at Arlene, and almost permanently frosted at Sam, who was pretending these days that I was a mere acquaintance. I debated whether to just go home rather than going to Bill’s; decided that was a good idea.

  It was a measure of how much he worried about me that Bill was at my house about fifteen minutes after I should have been at his.

  “You didn’t come, you didn’t call,” he said quietly when I answered the door.

  “I’m in a temper,” I said. “A bad one.”

  Wisely he kept his distance.

  “I apologize for making you worry,” I said after a moment. “I won’t do that again.” I strode away from him, toward the kitchen. He followed behind, or at least I presumed he did. Bill was so quiet you never knew until you looked.

  He leaned against the door frame as I stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, wondering why I’d come in the room, feeling a rising tide of anger. I was getting pissed off all over again. I really wanted to throw something, damage something. This was not the way I’d been brought up, to give way to destructive impulses like that. I contained it, screwing my eyes shut, clenching my fists.

  “I’m gonna dig a hole,” I said, and I marched out the back door. I opened the door to the tool shed, removed the shovel, and stomped to the back of the yard. There was a patch back there where nothing ever grew, I don’t know why. I sunk the shovel in, pushed it with my foot, came up with a hunk of soil. I kept on going. The pile of dirt grew as the hole deepened.

  “I have excellent arm and shoulder muscles,” I said, resting against the shovel and panting.

  Bill was sitting in a lawn chair watching. He didn’t say anything.

  I resumed digging.

  Finally, I had a really nice hole.

  “Were you going to bury anything?” Bill asked, when he could tell I was done.

  “No.” I looked down at the cavity in the ground. “I’m going to plant a tree.”

  “What kind?”

  “A live oak,” I said off the top of my head.

  “Where can you get one?”

  “At the Garden Center. I’ll go sometime this week.”

  “They take a long time to grow.”

  “What difference would that make to you?” I snapped. I put the shovel up in the shed, then leaned against it, suddenly exhausted.

  Bill made as if to pick me up.

  “I am a grown woman,” I snarled. “I can walk into the house on my own.”

  “Have I done something to you?” Bill asked. There was very little loving in his voice, and I was brought up short. I had indulged myself enough.

  “I apologize,” I said. “Again.”

  “What has made you so angry?”

  I just couldn’t tell him about Arlene.

  “What do you do when you get mad, Bill?”

  “I tear up a tree,” he said. “Sometimes I hurt someone.”

  Digging a hole didn’t seem so bad. It had been sort of constructive. But I was still wired—it was just more of a subdued buzz than a high-frequency whine. I cast around restlessly for something to affect.

  Bill seemed adept at reading the symptoms. “Make love,” he suggested. “Make love with me.”

  “I’m not in the right mood for love.”

  “Let me try to persuade you.”

  It turned out he could.

  At least it wore off the excess energy of anger, but I still had a residue of sadness that sex couldn’t cure. Arlene had hurt my feelings. I stared into space while Bill braided my hair, a pastime that he apparently found soothing.

  Every now and then I felt like I was Bill’s doll.

  “Jason was in the bar tonight,” I said.

  “What did he want?”

  Bill was too clever by far, sometimes, at reading people.

  “He appealed to my mind-reading powers. He wanted me to scan the minds of the men who came into the bar until I found out who the murderer was.”

  “Except for a few dozen flaws, that’s not a bad idea.”

  “You think?”

  “Both your brother and I will be regarded with less suspicion if the murderer is in jail. And you’ll be safe.”

  “That’s true, but I don’t know how to go about it. It would be hard, and painful, and boring, to wade through all that stuff trying to find a little bit of information, a flash of thought.”

  “Not any more painful or hard than being suspected of murder. You’re just accustomed to keeping your gift locked up.”

  “Do you think so?” I began to turn to look at his face, but he held me still so he could finish braiding. I’d never seen keeping out of people’s minds as selfish, but in this case I supposed it was. I would have to invade a lot of privacy. “A detective,” I murmured, trying to see myself in a better light than just nosey.

  “Sookie,” Bill said, and something in his voice made me take notice. “Eric has told me to bring you to Shreveport again.”

  It took me a second to remember who Eric was. “Oh, the big Viking vampire?”

  “The very old vampire,” Bill said precisely.

  “You mean, he ordered you to bring me there?” I didn’t like the sound of this at all. I’d been sitting on the side of the bed, Bill behind me, and now I turned to look in his face. This time he didn’t stop me. I stared at Bill, seeing something in his face that I’d never seen before. “You have to do this,” I said, appalled. I could not imagine someone giving Bill an order. “But honey, I don’t want to go see Eric.”

  I could see that made no difference.

  “What is he, the Godfather of vampires?” I asked, angry and incredulous. “Did he give you an offer you couldn’t refuse?”

  “He is older than me. More to the point, he is stronger.”

  “Nobody’s stronger than you,” I said stoutly.

  “I wish you were right.”

  “So is he the head of Vampire Region Ten, or something?”

  “Yes. Something like that.”

  Bill was always closemouthed about how vampires controlled their own affairs. That had been fine with me, until now.

  “What does he want? What will happen if I don’t go?”

  Bill just sidestepped the first question. “He’ll send someone—several someones—to get you.”

  “Other vampires.”

  “Yes.” Bill’s eyes were opaque, shining with his difference, brown and rich.

  I tried to think this through. I wasn’t used to being ordered around. I wasn’t used to no choices at all. It took my thick skull several minutes to evaluate the situation.

  “So, you’d feel obliged to fight them?”

  “Of course. You are mine.”

  There was that “mine” again. It seemed he really meant it. I sure felt like whining, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good.

  “I guess I have to go,” I said, trying not to sound bitter. “This is just plain old blackmail.”

  “Sookie, vampires aren’t like humans. Eric is using the best means to achieve his goal, which is getting you to Shreveport. He didn’t have to spell all this out; I understood it.”

  “Well, I understand it now, but I hate it. I’m between a rock and hard place! What does he want me for, anyway?” An obvious answer popped right into my mind, and I looked at Bill, horrified. “Oh, no, I won’t do that!”

  “He won’t have sex with you or bite you, not without killing me.” Bill’s glowing face lost all vestiges of familiarity and became utterly alien.

  “And he knows that,” I said tentatively, “so there must be another reason he wants me in Shreveport.”

  “Yes,” Bill agreed, “but I don’t know what it is.”

  “Well, if it doesn’t have to do with my physical charms, or the unusual quality of my blood, it must have to do with my . . . little quirk.”

  “Your gift.”

  “Right,” I said, sarcasm dripping from my voice. “My precious gift.” All the anger I thought I’d eased off my shoulders came back to sit like a four-hundred-pound gorilla. And I was scared to death. I wondered how Bill felt. I was even scared to ask that.

  “When?” I asked instead.

  “Tomorrow night.”

  “I guess this is the downside of nontraditional dating.” I stared over Bill’s shoulder at the pattern of the wallpaper my grandmother had chosen ten years ago. I promised myself that if I got through this, I would repaper.

  “I love you.” His voice was just a whisper.

  This wasn’t Bill’s fault. “I love you, too,” I said. I had to stop myself from begging, Please don’t let the bad vampire hurt me, please don’t let the vampire rape me. If I was between a rock and a hard place, Bill was doubly so. I couldn’t even begin to estimate the self-control he was employing. Unless he really was calm? Could a vampire face pain and this form of helplessness without some inner turmoil?

  I searched his face, the familiar clear lines and white matte complexion, the dark arches of his brows and proud line of his nose. I observed that Bill’s fangs were only slightly extended, and rage and lust ran them full out.

  “Tonight,” he said. “Sookie . . .” His hands began urging me to lie beside him.


  “Tonight, I think, you should drink from me.”

  I made a face. “Ick! Don’t you need all your strength for tomorrow night? I’m not hurt.”

  “How have you felt since you drank from me? Since I put my blood inside you?”

  I mulled it over. “Good,” I admitted.

  “Have you been sick?”

  “No, but then I almost never am.”

  “Have you had more energy?”

  “When you weren’t taking it back!” I said tartly, but I could feel my lips curve up in a little smile.

  “Have you been stronger?”

  “I—yes, I guess I have.” I realized for the first time how extraordinary it was that I’d carried in a new chair, by myself, the week before.

  “Has it been easier to control your power?”

  “Yes, I did notice that.” I’d written it off to increased relaxation.

  “If you drink from me tonight, tomorrow night you will have more resources.”

  “But you’ll be weaker.”

  “If you don’t take much, I’ll recoup during the day when I sleep. And I may have to find someone else to drink from tomorrow night before we go.”

  My face filled with hurt. Suspecting he was doing it and knowing were sure two different things.

  “Sookie, this is for us. No sex with anyone else, I promise you.”

  “You really think all this is necessary.”

  “Maybe necessary. At least helpful. And we need all the help we can get.”

  “Oh, all right. How do we do this?” I had only the haziest recollection of the night of the beating, and I was glad of it.

  He looked at me quizzically. I had the impression he was amused. “Aren’t you excited, Sookie?”

  “At drinking blood from you? Excuse me, that’s not my turn-on.”

  He shook his head, as if that was beyond his understanding. “I forget,” he said simply. “I forget how it is to be otherwise. Would you prefer neck, wrist, groin?”

  “Not groin,” I said hastily. “I don’t know, Bill. Yuck. Whichever.”

  “Neck,” he said. “Lie on top of me, Sookie.”

  “That’s like sex.”

  “It’s the easiest way.”

  So I straddled him and gently let myself down. This felt very peculiar. This was a position we used for lovemaking and nothing else.

  “Bite, Sookie,” he whispered.

  “I can’t do that!” I protested.

  “Bite, or I’ll have to use a knife.”

  “My teeth aren’t sharp like yours.”

  “They’re sharp enough.”

  “I’ll hurt you.”

  He laughed silently. I could feel his chest moving beneath me.

  “Damn.” I breathed, and steeling myself, I bit his neck. I did a good job because there was no sense prolonging this. I tasted the metallic blood in my mouth. Bill groaned softly, and his hands brushed my back and continued down. His fingers found me.

  I gave a gasp of shock.

  “Drink,” he said raggedly, and I sucked hard. He groaned, louder, deeper, and I felt him pressing against me. A little ripple of madness went through me, and I attached myself to him like a barnacle, and he entered me, began moving, his hands now gripping my hip bones. I drank and saw visions, visions all with a background of darkness, of white things coming up from the ground and going hunting, the thrill of the run through the woods, the prey panting ahead and the excitement of its fear; pursuit, legs pumping, hearing the thrumming of blood through the veins of the pursued . . .

  Bill made a noise deep in his chest and convulsed inside me. I raised my head from his neck, and a wave of dark delight carried me out to sea.

  This was pretty exotic stuff for a telepathic barmaid from northern Louisiana.

  Chapter 9

  I WAS GETTING ready by sunset the next day. Bill had said he was going to feed somewhere before we went, and as upset as the idea made me, I had to agree it made sense. He was right about how I’d feel after my little informal vitamin supplement the night before, too. I felt super. I felt very strong, very alert, very quick-witted, and oddly enough, I also felt very pretty.

  What would I wear for my own little interview with a vampire? I didn’t want to look like I was trying to be sexy, but I didn’t want to make a fool of myself by wearing a shapeless gunnysack, either. Blue jeans seemed to be the answer, as they so often are. I put on white sandals and a pale blue scoop-neck tee. I hadn’t worn it since I’d started seeing Bill because it exposed his fang marks. But Bill’s “ownership” of me, I figured, could not be too strongly reinforced tonight. Remembering the cop last time checking my neck, I tucked a scarf in my purse. I thought again and added a silver necklace. I brushed my hair, which seemed at least three shades lighter, and let it ripple down my back.

  Just when I was really having to struggle with picturing Bill with somebody else, he knocked. I opened the door and we stood looking at each other for a minute. His lips had more color than normal, so he’d done it. I bit my own lips to keep from saying anything.

  “You did change,” he said first.

  “You think anyone else’ll be able to tell?” I hoped not.

  “I don’t know.” He held out his hand, and we walked to his car. He opened my door, and I brushed by him to climb in. I stiffened.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked, after a moment.

  “Nothing,” I said, trying to keep my voice even, and I sat in the passenger’s seat and stared straight ahead of me.

  I told myself I might as well be mad at the cow who had given him his hamburger. But somehow the simile just didn’t work.

  “You smell different,” I said after we’d been on the highway for a few minutes. We drove for a few minutes in silence.

  “Now you know how I will feel if Eric touches you,” he told me. “But I think I’ll feel worse because Eric will enjoy touching you, and I didn’t much enjoy my feeding.”

  I figured that wasn’t totally, strictly, true: I know I always enjoy eating even if I’m not served my favorite food. But I appreciated the sentiment.

  We didn’t talk much. We were both worried about what was ahead of us. All too soon, we were parking at Fangtasia again, but this time in the back. As Bill held open the car door, I had to fight an impulse to cl
ing to the seat and refuse to get out. Once I made myself emerge, I had another struggle involving my intense desire to hide behind Bill. I gave a kind of gasp, took his arm, and we walked to the door like we were going to a party we were anticipating with pleasure.

  Bill looked down at me with approval.

  I fought an urge to scowl at him.

  He knocked on the metal door with FANGTASIA stencilled on it. We were in a service and delivery alley that ran behind all the stores in the little strip mall. There were several other cars parked back there, Eric’s sporty red convertible among them. All the vehicles were high-priced.

  You won’t find a vampire in a Ford Fiesta.

  Bill knocked, three quick, two spaced apart. The Secret Vampire Knock, I guess. Maybe I’d get to learn the Secret Handshake.

  The beautiful blond vampire opened the door, the female who’d been at the table with Eric when I’d been to the bar before. She stood back without speaking to let us enter.

  If Bill had been human, he would have protested at how tightly I was holding his hand.

  The female was in front of us more quickly than my eyes could follow, and I started. Bill wasn’t surprised at all, naturally. She led us through a storeroom disconcertingly similar to Merlotte’s and into a little corridor. We went through the door on our right.

  Eric was in the small room, his presence dominating it. Bill didn’t exactly kneel to kiss his ring, but he did nod kind of deep. There was another vampire in the room, the bartender, Long Shadow; he was in fine form tonight, in a skinny-strap tee and weight-lifting pants, all in deep green.

  “Bill, Sookie,” Eric greeted us. “Bill, you and Sookie know Long Shadow. Sookie, you remember Pam.” Pam was the blond female. “And this is Bruce.”

  Bruce was a human, the most frightened human I’d ever seen. I had considerable sympathy with that. Middle-aged and paunchy, Bruce had thinning dark hair that curved in stiff waves across his scalp. He was jowly and smallmouthed. He was wearing a nice suit, beige, with a white shirt and a brown-and-navy patterned tie. He was sweating heavily. He was in a straight chair across the desk from Eric. Naturally, Eric was in the power chair. Pam and Long Shadow were standing against the wall across from Eric, by the door. Bill took his place beside them, but as I moved to join him, Eric spoke again.

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