My feet landed in a sea of silky, red rose petals beside my bed. The swelling had gone down in my eye and the sunlit room came beautifully into focus. There were so many of them. Exotic and colorful, flowers filled my room on stands, in pots with pretty bows and in vases. Bemused, I stumbled past the maze to the bathroom to handle the bare necessities and quickly returned.
The bathroom had been bombed by the flower fairy, too. White satin slippers and a matching robe stood out in contrast to the crimson petals that lay beneath them on the lower half of my bed. I snatched up the luxurious items and put them on. I felt like Scarlett O’Hara and twirled in the confined space.
The expensive gifts screamed of Eric. He had always managed to send me a little pick-me-up before we became a couple. We are pledged with the knife now. I guess I should come to expect a little more. Well, this was a lot more and a welcomed surprise.
Jason walked past my room and I followed to find him scrambling to disentangle himself from a very large leafy plant that was in the hall. It was another gift. It had a pewter base with a large red bow.
“Hey,” I said when he got free. He glared at me.
“What in the hell is with these dang crazy vampires! Haven’t they ever heard of Hallmark?” He stalked past me, kicking up rose petals along the way and out the back door he went, letting the screen door slam behind him.
I let my brother have his hissy fit. Losing his estranged wife, unborn child and best friend within weeks of each other was enough to depress the devil. My recent abduction didn’t help either, so I figured he was due.
I’d better go talk to him, I thought and was nearly out the door when I noticed it. My small kitchen table was covered with white linen and so were the chairs. There was an elaborate spread of fruit and sweets and believe it or not, more flowers. Rose petals covered the table top, chairs and floor.
“Jason! . . . Amelia!” I screamed. This was too good not to share and we could all use some cheer. I sat down with a grin so wide it hurt my cheeks and began stuffing my face with a cheese Danish. It was so fresh and delicious. Huge strawberries, with a choice of chocolate dipping sauce or cream cheese fruit dip, was next. The chicory coffee nearly burned my mouth. It was smooth and perfectly sweetened.
I called for Jason and Amelia again but no one came. Next to the coffee was the newspaper. It had a pretty bow too with a shiny, silver card attached. The fancy letter on the wax seal of the card looked like an E. The few words that were scribbled in red on the inside made all the food that I had scarfed down, return for a second showing:
“Welcome to Royalty.” It was signed, Felipe.
I took leave of my senses for the remainder of the afternoon. The human mind can take only so much and I had reached my breaking point. Everything that happened after that was a blur.
Nursemaid was not Jason’s thing but he was giving it the old college try. He went up and down the stairs and in and out the house, attending to our needs as he could. I appreciated him hanging around. Alone is the last thing that either of us wanted to be.
Amelia’s brain had gone AWOL. She hadn’t processed a single, coherent thought since daybreak. She didn’t even go to the bathroom. I sensed her wake up and go to sleep but I never heard her make a sound. She was so quiet that I wondered if it was possible for a witch to perform a stasis spell on herself. I suspected some kind of hocus pocus or something or other was in the atmosphere.
Mrs. Fortenberry cooked supper for us and had her son, Hoyt (who was also one of Jason’s best friends) deliver it to the house. She felt awfully bad about my recent calamity. As one of my grandmother’s oldest friends she felt compelled to help me in my time of need. I opened the Tupperware dish to find baked chicken, red beans & rice and a corn muffin. It smelled delicious and I savored every bite. Amelia’s tray returned to the kitchen untouched.
“I put the pie she sent in the fridge.” Jason told me.
“I’ve got to call her and say thanks,” I said to Jason and then paused. It was then I noticed something so uncharacteristic of him. Jason had just gotten off the emotional roller coaster from hell and he truly looked the part. He wore a khaki outfit that was probably clean and pressed a few days ago. Beard stubble speckled his youthful, handsome face and his eyes were tired and weary.
I immediately said a prayer for my brother. I asked God to help him find peace in the midst of his turmoil and purpose in the future.
Pam woke shortly after sundown. The remnants of Felipe’s gifts were still smoldering in the back yard. Ms. Highhanded immediately set in on me about the wards again. I pitched a fit about being handled like I was a child. The dream invasion and gifts had already put me on edge and I let her have it with both barrels. Pam froze in the middle of my speech and sat on the edge of my bed looking bewildered.
“What?” I said. I admit that I was probably overreacting but she looked like she had just seen a ghost.
Astonished she said “He really got to you?”
“Pam, I told you it was a dream. Just a stupid, stupid dream!”
“Sookie, you just said ‘please don’t ward out my dark prince.’” Pam told me. I recognized my own words when she gave them back to me verbatim. She actually mimicked my posture, voice and inflection like a video playback. It was really off putting but no denying.
I fell back on the bed, completely sickened by the revelation. I felt a breeze whiz by me as Pam shot up to the witch’s room like she was launched from a cannon. Despite Pam’s efforts to wake her, Amelia, was dead to the world and could not be roused. Her brain pattern told me that the engine was running but nobody was driving. We were on the verge of an all out panic when Jason told us he had given Amelia sleeping pills within the hour.
“She woke up shaking and hysterical when I took her dinner,” he told us after Pam returned to my room. “I’m sorry but I didn’t want her to hurt herself.”
“You did the right thing Jason. It’s just rather inconvenient for us,” Pam said and quickly went to plan B. “Make a strong pot of coffee and keep it coming. We will need energy drinks and lots of Trueblood. Will you help?” she said, directing the orders to Jason who gave her a silent “aye, aye, Captain” salute and carried out her wishes.
“What can the king possibly do to me in my sleep other than try and/or succeed to sex me up?” I asked her. “If he could bite me or turn me, he would have already.”
“I don’t know, nor do I want to find out,” she said. “I have never seen anything like it. We need Eric.”
“Actually” I paused for a moment, unsure of how she would take it. “We need Bill.” Bill had created a database that housed all sorts of information on vampires. Not only did it have names, aliases and addresses, it also told of their special gifts, origins and who sired them. Sadly for us Bill, too, was not available.
“Do you have a copy of the database?” I asked her.
“Smart girl, you are.” She smiled, pulled out an iPhone, pressed speed dial and put it on speaker.
“Bite Me! . . . At Fangtasia.” A deep voice answered. If he was going for sexy and alluring, it worked. I recognized it as Maxwell Lee.
“Max, I’m glad you answered. We need to do a little research on our new leader.”
“No can do, shawty,” he interrupted. Pam actually giggled at the endearment. I was sure that no one ever dared call the lethal vampire by anything other than her name. The reaction was a little surprising. Pam does not do giggle. Something had come over the Maxwell too. The lingo was an oddity on the vampire that I had known as a professional businessman. “Little Pepe de Psycho has put everything on lock-down.” Maxwell continued. “The bar is open but we are not allowed in the offices. He even posted enforcers here.”
“Let me talk to Eric,” she demanded.
“That’s a double negative. I was told that he is being detained.” The last part sounded like he was delivering the canned corporate BS response.
“Get here now!” she ordered.
“Like green grass through a goose,” Maxwell drawled and hung up.
Pam’s single phrase spoke volumes. She went from loyal subject to commander-in-chief and confirmed to me that the sheriff was officially out of commission. I didn’t get upset though. Our bond, although weakened, told me that Eric was agitated, but okay. I also used Pam’s actions as a barometer to judge her sire’s state of distress. They had over a century of a relationship compared to our puny few years. If Eric was in trouble, Pam would kick me to the curb so fast it would make my head spin, telepath be damned. All of us knew that Eric was her top priority.
Jason called in reinforcements, too, Dawn and Jacky Norris who were his fellow pack members from Hot Shot. Hoyt decided to stick around as well. The four of them would guard the perimeter, they all agreed.
Maxwell, true to his promise, got to the house in record time. He came through the house so fast that he had to grab on to the door frame to stop his combat boots from sliding past my room. Like most vampires, Maxwell welcomed a good fight and was stoked for battle.
“Wow!” Was all we could say when he filled the frame of the doorway. I think he had watched one too many Blade movies. Maxwell was African-American, with skin nearly the same shade of his short, wavy, jet black hair that had extensive etchings cut in the sides. Dark eyes hid behind even darker shades. He wore leather pants, which he packed rather nicely, no shirt, displaying a stomach fit for an Ab Ripper commercial and a long leather coat that reached all the way down to his ankles. If Pam was the interim sheriff, Maxwell Lee was now second in command and loving it.
“No rest for the weary,” she said in an exasperated huff. I wasn’t sure if she was talking about me not going to sleep or the job of directing this misfit, makeshift army she had to command. She pushed Maxwell out of the door, by his pecks, I noticed, and mouthed “I’ll be right back,” to me.
I pulled out Justin, which was hidden in between my mattress. The wooden stake was a gift that Jason had fashioned for me when I started keeping company with the undead. I’d been terrified to even pull it out before. I was afraid that I would hurt somebody or myself. He sanded, buffed and honed the tip with precision and carved the name Justin in the side. “Just-in case you have to teach one of those blood suckers a lesson,” he said when he gave it to me.
“If anyone were to sneak up on me they’d have to ‘Say hello to my little friend!’” I said to myself, making a couple of practice jabs in the air. I could tell by the handle that Justin had been made from my old softball bat that Gran had bought for me when I joined the team, back in high school. It was light weight and fit in my hand perfectly.
My body still ached, yet I practiced my lethal strike from every position imaginable. The quickness of which my body adapted was unexpected and the pretend hunt, exhilarating. I leaped from corners, hid behind the door and rolled from under the bed trying to choreograph the best point of attack.
The natural moves felt like dancing. Everyone knows that Sookie can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but she can dance. One, two, three, spin, and jab. One, two, punch and crouch. Leap, step back and punch, underarm jab with a kick to the noggin. I bounced on my toes for a moment, totally pumped with adrenalin and then collapsed on the bed, chock-full of emotion like a damn girl.
“I’ve turned into Buffy?” I said. I flung my forearm over my eyes in an effort to block the wave of tears. “Eric!” I cried. I hoped that he would magically appear and all would be well in my little world.
“Not Buffy,” I resolved with conviction “I am a beast!”
I turned on my back and stared at the ceiling. “So suck it up, Sook!” I told myself and embraced the power of my blade of destiny that I held close to my chest.
I took a deep cleansing and relaxing inhalation, filling my lungs to capacity. Eric would return to me soon, I felt it with every fiber of my being and I still needed to be of sound mind when he did. Exhale. We could start life anew and have our own happily ever after. Inhale. We could be like a real couple and start a family. Adoption, of course. Exhale. Escape to exotic places, away from all the vamp politics and mind reading. Inhale. No werewolves, no shape-shifters. Exhale. No witches or fairies. The thought of the dangerous Fae momentarily broke my resolve. I inhaled a deep, haggard breath. The scent of dark spices and vampire permeated the air and burned my nostrils with recognition. Exhale.
“Come with me, my queen.” A thickly accented voice whispered and my chore ached in response to his call.
My eyes popped open and my hands locked around Justin. “No fear, Sookie. Wait for it. Wait for it.” I repeated in my head, only a little distracted by the sound of my own blood that was now pumping loudly in my veins. He was leaning casually on the door frame of my private bath. I could make out the outline of him in my periphery but I refused to look at him. Even when his voice grew near, my eyes remained up toward the ceiling.
“Turn about is fair play?” He nearly tricked me. Naturally his question intrigued me and I looked toward him questioningly but then snapped my head back upward fast enough to get whiplash. Not before I got an eye full of the sinewy, corded, flawless frame of Felipe “why you gotta be so fine?” de Castro.
Dark eyes glared at me hungrily, like it was his birthday and I was his favorite cake of which he could not wait to devour. His wet and glistening body was covered with an itty, bitty, towel about his waist. He propped one leg up on the foot of the bed and parts of him peeked out from underneath the towel. Yep, it was pretty substantial, too. If ever there was ever an OSM (oh shit moment) this was it.
I cursed underneath my breath. My skin was suddenly flawless, too and free of clothing. This vamp was slicker than a pot of boiled okra. Eric had warned me about Felipe’s cleverness. It was a shame that I was gonna Ginsu his pretty ass.
“I didn’t take you for such a petty person, trading tit for . . . um . . . well, you know,” he lightly chuckled. I felt him slowly stalk up the bed like a wild animal. The weight of his body caused the mattress to dip with his movements. He reached up and traced a single red rose over the stake.
“What in the hell are you talking about!” I said snapping my body forward. His face was right in front of mine. I immediately squeezed my eyes shut. No way was he getting me with those sparkling silvers. My heart felt like it was going to pound right out of my body but I wasn’t backing down. I had gained one small victory. Justin’s tip rested on the left side of his chest. The forceful push exhausted the remainder of my energy and would have driven Justin through his chest, had his next word not turned my arm to J-E-L-L-O.
“Harder!” he whispered in my ear. His thick accent rolled the r’s and punched the d. My hand completely punked out and started to tremble. “Isn’t that what you said when I impaled you last eve?” He tilted his head and licked my lips, trying to gain entry. The velvety stroke lit up every sensor in my body. “And now you are trying to impale me.” He gathered a hand full of my silky hair and inhaled my scent greedily. “Well, what you actually said was,” he pulled my head back and his voice grew more urgent, slowly emphasizing each word. “Harder, Felipe. Harder.”
My panting was the only sound that followed as he held my face gently in his hands and showed me all the amazing uses of the human tongue. I melted, again.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The score is now Felipe – two, Sookie – nuttin. Justin slipped right out of my hands and thumped on the floor. That sound of defeat jolted me back to reality.
I bolted out of the bed with a high screech and ran down the hall like a bat out of hell, clipping my shoulder on the bedroom door in my haste. That’s going to definitely leave a mark, I thought as I ran smack dab into Maxwell’s boulder of a body, bounced off and landed ungracefully on my rump near the living room.
It was a good thing that I had changed from my little pink gown to pajama pants earlier; otherwise Maxwell would have seen all my goodies. He smelled like old spice cologne and leather. The “Smell like a man, man!” slogan played in my head as I scurried behind him, circled my good arm around his powerful leg, pointing toward the room.
Pam calmly sank down to look in my face. A tender hand reached for mine and caressed it. She placed her other hand comfortingly on my injured shoulder and spoke to me as if she was trying to subdue a crazed lunatic. I remember mumbling something about beasts and Buffy and getting my big brother to kick Felipe’s butt.
“Sookie . . . dear . . . he can’t come in the house unless you invite him in,” she said, speaking very slowly. Then her voice grew more abrupt and rather angry. “He can’t come into your dreams unless you are ASLEEP!”
I thought about that for a moment and then looked a little sheepish. Maybe I did doze off for a second while I was trying to regain my composure. When Pam thought I was sufficiently distracted, she heartlessly jerked my dislocated shoulder back into place.
Maxwell reached down and yanked me up by my other arm like a rag doll. “Let’s hope the saying is true lil’ mama, cause we need you on your toes tonight,” he said, escorting me to the kitchen and sitting me on the stool that my grandmother used when she talked on the phone. I looked up at him questioningly. “Behind every successful woman, is a substantial amount of coffee.” He reached across me with a devilish grin, filled a cup and placed the hot liquid, rather forcefully in front of me. The contents sloshed back and forth with steam rising. Some spilled on to the counter.
This was the time when I really missed Eric. He would have never sloshed my coffee, or yanked me off the floor “or jerked my shoulder back into place!” I yelled toward the living room.
By the third cup, my hands had completely stopped shaking. Jason came in around midnight. He iced my shoulder again, gave me pain meds, the non-drowsy formula and a chaser of Red Bull.
“Pie makes everything better, little sis,” he said, pulling the glass Pyrex dish from the fridge. We shared a large slice of the Pecan pie that Mrs. Fortenberry made from our grandmother’s recipe. The familiarity allowed us a chance to steal back a few precious childhood memories that were dormant in our hearts. The moment seemed to pacify us both.
Jason made it his personal business to check on Amelia every half-hour. She screamed out around three am but then fell right back to sleep. He acted as if he was a little sweet on my roomie. Looking in his head, I only saw pity for the mourning little witch.
The vampires busied themselves keeping me pumped with caffeine while trying to get a handle on our dilemma through various phone calls. Felipe had blacklisted all Area 5 vamps, they learned, but still they tried.
My mind needed a vacation from the craziness so I caught up on my reading. I finished The Hunger Games in record time and smiled at the sweet ending. I couldn’t help but yell the heroes name in the end “Peeta!” my voice resounded, breaking the silence just before dawn. Everyone was a little startled by my sudden outburst but figured I was just wired from all the stimulants that I had ingested during the night.
The vampires hurriedly found shelter as the sky glowed a teal blue marking a new day. I didn’t see Maxwell leave and wondered if he and Pam decided to share Bill’s hidey hole in my guest room. They’d been acting like “two pigs in a poke” all night. I went to close the door of the closet, like I usually do. I like to camouflage the daytime resting place to keep it secret from visitors. The door to the guest room was locked. That was definitely a surprise. I pressed my ear to the door. Muffled giggling and then Pam said something about handcuffs, I thought. I quickly shook the visual from my head.
The Weres dispersed just after breakfast and I finally was able to relax. “Not a word of this to Eric.” I told each and every one of my protectors. Felipe was trying to goad Eric into a fight. He’s gonna have to come through me first. Next time, I’ll be ready.