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is an avid fan of the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, so much so, that waiting for the next book was not an option! This Sookie Stackhouse Fanfiction fantasy picks up where CH's book 9 left off. Tune in weekly for the next installment of Back from the Dead. Disclaimer: J. Barrington does not own the characters of the Southern Vampire Series AKA Sookie Stackhouse Novels. All rights are reserved for Charlaine Harris.

Love Sucks - XXV & XXVI

My inner voice was screaming "Run! Save Yourself!" but desire had me on lock. I saw the true Viking in those eyes, set on pillaging my little village and claiming territory. The look of desperation and innocence that the vampire wore back at the bar had transformed to raw hunger before I could get my purse. He looked around suspiciously and guarded my every step when we walked to my car. His glacial glare frosted over as he scanned our surroundings. It was like he sensed a clear and present danger that someone or something was going to swoop down and snatch me out of his grasp before he could stake his claim.

I had not seen Eric in weeks. He had not called me. Pam didn’t even reach out to me, no text message, email or voice mail or telegram. It was like I had fallen off the Supe grid. Now he just shows up professing his love for me. The dead giveaway of my plight was revealed after he had buckled me in the driver’s seat of my car. He asked me the question that turned out to be the theme of the night.

“Have you rescinded my invitation, Sookie?” Instead of making a snappy comeback, I just relaxed back and stared into his handsome face like a love sick puppy. He leaned in and placed a soft and gentle kiss on my lips, stood back and closed the car door. I wished that I wasn’t so transparent.

I looked up to see him, not understanding why he wasn’t getting in the car, and that’s when I saw it. He tried to mask the myriad of emotions that danced across his face. From his profile, I caught the sly celebratory smile that said, “Gotcha!” The corners of his mouth pulled to show his fangs just before he made a hasty exit.

I sat there for a long while, waiting and wondering if he would join me in the car. I came to the conclusion that whatever the vampire was going through at the moment, he didn’t want me to witness it. Sam made himself look busy in his front yard. I knew that he was just keeping an eye on me. I waved goodbye to the Shifter and with a sigh. I pulled out of the empty parking lot and headed home.

The short distance turned into long country miles as I sensed the protective shields that CJ had placed around my mind dissipate. I felt it lifting, layer after layer, until I lay exposed as the day I discovered the daunting disharmony of voices that made me run for cover. Now, I was open to every being in the area that could manage a coherent thought, or so it seemed. There were so many of them; drunken, sober, depressed, excited, lonely, all trampling on my sanity. Voices came pouring into my head so loud and strong that I veered off the road to gather myself.

“CJ!” I said aloud with an unsteady voice that frightened me to hear. I pried my hands from the wheel, shifted the car into park and put my flashers on. “Not now, please!” I felt the last current of his energy fizzle and it actually brought tears to my eyes. The void, that left me cold and bewildered, was enough to make me seek him out but a sudden feeling of lurking danger kept me right there on the side of the road. Whatever CJ was doing required all that he had and therefore could not spare any for me, I somehow knew. Maybe he was fighting the inner demon that was threatening to jump out and stake my vampire. Maybe he and that demon were conjuring up something terrible.

In the midst of my turmoil, I heard it, sounding off like a beacon in a storm. It was the distinctive deep and grounding melody humming in my mind. It told me that CJ was scrounging enough energy to protect me from going into the debilitating territory of a sorcerer’s mind. I shivered at the thought of adding his thoughts to my quarry. The sounds grew louder and eventually morphed into calming soothing music, Beethoven’s 5th. It wasn’t the original version, which was likely to put me to sleep. This one had a modern twist. The rhythmic percussion, calling out to the dancer in me. One would think it an inopportune moment to get my grove on but I actually gave my driver’s seat a run for the money, right then and there.

Putting up my own shields takes time, especially if I haven’t had to do it in a while. CJ had spoiled me with his soothing presence and ability to shield my mind from the thoughts of others and his own. I slipped on my big girl britches and set to handling my business. I managed some protection for myself. Instead of steel plates that created a smooth impenetrable barrier, it was more like worn boards and rusty nails slapped up haphazardly. It wasn’t what I needed but it would have to do. I would do a more efficient job of it when rested, I was sure.

My long shower helped me to relax and I was able to rig my shields with some efficiency. I was then reminded of another shower with . . . him and got all wound up again. I had given up hope of seeing Eric by the time I put on my tank top and fleece sleep pants with little blue sheep on them. That’s when I heard the tap, tap, tapping on my window pane. I followed the sound to the front of the house. The familiar, thick aroma of the sorcerer’s wards, now faint, if not completely gone.

Amelia’s cat, T2, was scratching on the front door, notifying me of the potential intruder. He was a smart cat and would probably have opened the door if he had the opposable thumbs needed to turn knobs. She saw him at a shelter and the tomcat reminded her of its name sake, Tray, she had told me when she brought him home. Oddly enough, the animal had similar hair color of the Were who was cut down in his prime. He was also somewhat burly for a feline. We fell in love with him in no time. I love cats so it was an easy sell on me plus it provided countless hours of peace for the mourning witch who was still missing her man.

“Eric?” I said in astonishment and I think the growl came from me, as well. My heart rate picked up and skipped a few beats. Dressed to impress; he had on an actual tuxedo, with a bow tie and everything. His hair was slicked back with some hair product and was held together by a piece of his hair that was wrapped around it. “Shepherd of Judea!” I said under my breath. He was, in a word, riveting.

“Invite me in,” he droned. His fangs were showing and I was both scared and psyched. Vampires cannot come into your house unless you invite them in. If you withdraw their invitation they have to get out toot sweet, no matter what they are in the middle of. In a fit of rage, I had voided the welcome of every vampire and their mammas from my home, my children’s homes and my children’s children homes. Eating my own words would never taste so good, I thought, swallowing hard. If I had fangs they would have been out, too.

I wanted to grab him by the arm and yank him through the door but the southern lady that my grandmother raised smiled and stood to the side. “You may enter,” and he did, revealing a bouquet of the most beautiful red roses that he had held behind his back. Someone had been doing their homework. I felt like we were in a sitcom. He had all the charm and mannerism of a Middle American perfect husband. The only thing that ruined the visual was the fangs which put him just left of Bela Lugosi from the old vampire movies. He was very excited to see me and the sharp canines refused to heel. He absently ran his tongue across them as he placed me in the chair and set up the show.

A periodic breeze, a few clamors and doors closing or opening were signs that Eric was still in the building. He moved so fast that I couldn’t make out the shape of him. I wanted to change into something more appropriate, since he had gone all out but I was afraid he’d knock me over by accident. T2 wasn’t as wise. I heard the cat yelp a few times before he decided to join me, curling up next to my leg, on the seat. When the madness settled, Eric was standing before me, dapper as ever, with an extended elbow. We walked to the kitchen arm in arm.

The candle light dinner was a very romantic setting. I wasn’t hungry in the least (not for food, anyway). The table was perfectly set. He even set a plate for himself. He made small talk about the weather and my job while he meticulously plated the food; baked chicken, rice pilaf and green beans.

“Did you make this? I asked. It looked and smelled delightful.

“I had a little help from some friends,” he said, smiling slightly. He plated food in front of himself and sat down. I’d seen Eric taste small bits of food since he received Niall’s gift of walking during the day, but to actually sit down and eat was very strange.

I looked at him across the table. “Fabio.” I scoffed under my breath. He could only hope to be this handsome.

I became acutely aware that this reunion was something that I never expected. I had resigned, in my most sacred heart, to the fact that he would never forgive me for being able to read his vampire mind. Like nearly everyone that I had met and read, he would distance himself and catalog me under “Kooky.” He would avoid me like the plague and totally reject me.

He was having similar feelings. I didn’t dare go into his head but I could tell. He told a few jokes to fill the awkward silence. I just watched him in amazement. He fidgeted a lot, rearranging utensils, adjusting his plate to sit perfectly center on his side of the table. He opened a linen napkin and placed it over his lap, as if he did this every day. He filled our wine and water glasses. I had a feeling he was procrastinating or pretending that he was going to eat so that I wouldn’t have to eat alone.

When he sliced the meat and brought it to his mouth, I’d had enough of the charade. I leaned over the short distance and opened my mouth, knowing that he would not refuse me. He looked at me suspiciously as he pursed his lips and cooled the meat by blowing on it. He deposited the juicy and tasty morsel in my mouth, instead of his.

“Thank you,” I said, savoring the bite. It was even better than I thought it would be. “Now just what you are doing?” He was neatly slicing another piece of meat with perfect table manners.

“Being human,” he said, matter of factly. This time the meat reached the designated target. He mulled it around for a moment and forced a smile. Riding a bike, this was not. As expected, he excused himself within a matter of seconds. I hoped that he wasn’t sick. He returned shortly with a forced placid expression, took a fork and went for the rice.

“Stop it.”

“I can’t,” he responded, neatly balancing the rice on his fork and putting it in his mouth. He chewed and chewed and . . . “Excuse me.” He left again and returned quickly. I didn’t even object with the green beans. I hated green beans and figured he would too. He chewed those quickly, swallowed and took a big gulp of wine to chase it down.

“I’ll be here when you get back,” I told him. He whizzed past me. He didn’t have time to excuse himself. He took a little longer this time and when he returned he no look so good. He dabbed the linen to his mouth.

“It will be an adjustment but eventually I will be able to do it.” I wanted to pet him up but his ego would not appreciate that so I stayed put and stayed quiet. After a long silence he said, “I have been a barbarian for so long that it is second nature to me. I figure that if I act more human . . .” He stopped when I got up to go to the fridge.

“I don’t want a human.” Duh! Didn’t he get the memo? Sookie and humans don’t mix. His eyes followed me across the dimly lit, small space. His mind was hanging on my every word. His eyes were hanging on to the rest of me. I warmed a bottle of synthetic blood, inverted it a few times and poured the contents in a wine goblet. I added a stalk of celery and a good helping of canned whip topping. I knew he’d like that. “If I wanted a human,” I tossed the beans into the sink over my shoulder. “I would have been with one long before you.” The rice followed, making a bit of a mess as the serving bowl hit the sink. I slid the chicken to the side. It was a little too good to meet its end just yet.

I was pretty proud of my presentation that took all of thirty seconds to prepare. I had also ruined what took hours to make and creativity that probably took days.

“Ooops,” I said, biting the inside of my lip. “I’m so sorry.” I moved close and let him sample his drink by dipping the celery stick in his mouth. “I seemed to have ruined your dinner.” He did like the alternative and licked the cream off the top. While he became friendly with the stalk, I geared up for the serious.

“Love is unconditional.” I had his full attention with that phrase and his eyes lifted to see me. “If I try to change you, that is not love. If you learn anything about being human from me know this: ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.’” I felt self-righteous as I ran down the scripture. I stumbled off my soap box when I realized that we could both learn something from that passage before the echo of my voice faded from the room.

“I will never ask you to change,” I assured him. His uniqueness is what I fell in love with. “You, do you,” I told him sternly and sincerely. Society had been trying to force my square peg into their round hole ever since I was old enough to say what Mrs. Perkins really thought of the pastor’s sermon, in front of the pastor. Or that Uncle Bart's favorite pastime was stealing the innocence of little girls. Or that Mr. Norris was siphoning funds from the school treasury to pay his gambling debts. That announcement went over real well at the Descendents of the Glorious Dead meeting that my grandmother hosted. It was never a dull moment with that crazy little Stackhouse gal around. It also made them want to shut me up, permanently.

The room suddenly went dark as the candles hit the floor. I heard furniture topple over and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I couldn’t see but a quiet voice told me he was standing very close to me. My heart started to race just a teeny weeny bit. The rustling sound of a jacket being removed and I could only guess that next was his bow tie, being untied and pulled from his neck.

“That is a beautiful sentiment, Sookie but . . . I cannot say the same.” My brain worked overtime to make sense of that but got side tracked. He circled me, dragging the tie along my flesh in feathery graze, until it rested around my neck. His hands began to roam just as lightly and finally rested on my waist. He didn’t want to restrain me but he was not letting me get away. I hoped that we weren’t having the “Turn Sookie into a vampire” discussion again.

“What sense would it make to change me?” I asked. “We would have a few hot and heavy years together (real hot and real heavy) before we both moved on to the next one.” Two vampires, as a rule, did not stay together as a couple, for long. It gave them too much control over one another, he’d told me long ago. He and Pam started out as a couple and now she is bowing to him and all “my liege and mastuh!” and crap, giving in to the one chief, many Indians train of thought. Thanks but no thanks. I prefer my man right beside me, not above, not below.

He laughed deep in his throat and I figured that maybe I was on the wrong path. The circling stopped behind me. He tilted my head back before he said “Change can be good.” The sultry speech and his cool breath, tickling my ear got the desired response and I melted into him. He lowered his head, held on to my chin and kissed me senseless. My hand rose, of their own volition to touch his face and cradle his head. He moaned and I gasped when the warm liquid saturated my top. “Oops,” he said, softly with a smile in his voice. “I’m so sorry,” he mocked. “I seemed to have spilled my drink.” I heard glass break after he tossed it over his shoulder. The entire contents of the goblet of Trueblood with cream topping clung to my skin and clothing. My chest heaved in anticipation as he traced my upper body with the celery stick. True to his M.O. he said “Let me help you change that shirt, lover.”

Funny! I just know he did NOT think that he was going to show up after weeks of not calling me!, I thought, as my shirt went over my head. Oh my! There go my pants crumpling at my feet and my butt buffing the kitchen counter to a bright shine. In the tradition of Scarlett O’Hara, I’d worry about the hows and whys of my predicament tomorrow. At present, I was working on replenishing my depleted vitamin D and elated that I wouldn’t need to go to Wal-Mart to restock my battery supply.

My cohort would have to get naked in order to fulfill his part of the equation, but unfortunately  and fortunately both of his hands were very busy. One had just cleverly popped the lock on my chastity, granting full access to the “Gracious Plenty’s” happy place, as he calls it. The other hand became reacquainted with everything above. I didn’t know that hands alone could extract so many sounds, emotions and ultimate pleasure.

As I cried out at the shock of yet another release, I continued to squeeze my eyes shut. Those beautiful, crystal blues bore the possessive gaze that I couldn’t bear getting lost in now. I’d seen the look the night that Quinn and I had our first date. Eric had stopped by that night, unannounced and was fit to be tied. I’d seen it the night that Bill and Quinn fought. I’d seen it at Merlottes when CJ kissed me on the top of my head.

He was very meticulous in his cleaning duty. He told me that he didn’t want to be wasteful as he lapped up every drop of the synthetic blood. “Eric!” I let out a sigh. My inner wanton woman was doing a victory dance but I remained cool, somewhat. I confiscated the celery stalk, reading that he was about to do something that would traumatize me from adding that ingredient to future recipes. Besides, I didn’t play that freaky sh*t (not veggie-ality anyway).

“We must get these to the laundry,” he said, when he pulled my pj’s off my feet. At the time I didn’t give a hoot about my own clothing. I marveled at all Eric could do with his still on. Those long, strong hands with clever fingers seemed to have a mind of their own. Fangs should not be doing that, I knew, but my legs trembled every time they did that, that thing they did on my . . . hmmm. Tender yet powerful kisses all over my . . . “Oh My God! He ravished me like a starving man at a banquet. I didn’t know if I was . . . “Oooooh My God! . . . “ coming “Oh . . . My . . . Gohhhhhhd!” or coming.

I stand corrected. We both knew exactly what was happening, in excess. Every touch was a sensual erotic promise of what was to come. It made me shudder and drove me wild.

You know that point where your body is so ready that you should be embarrassed by just how ready you are? It’s when you unabashedly move on instinct, you boldly shout obscene instructions urging him to your treasure trove. It’s when you scream so loud that your neighbors know specifically what is being done, who is doing it and just how truly, truly goooooood the task is being performed. You literally cry real tears at the intensity of the union. It’s when your vast vocabulary is reduced to five very important directives; “Yes, Oh-Yeah, Baby, Right and There.” Yeah, that’s were Sookie Stackhouse was hovering. Hovering but not going over the edge.



“Invite me in lover,” he whispered into my core with a low sultry cadence that surged heat throughout my whole being and made my toes curl. I slowly relaxed my physical body and gave myself over to the master of my pleasure, completely. He was pacified for the moment, but that was not what he was really after. When I was yet whimpering, he asked again.

What floated this Viking’s boat was the two of us looking deep into one another’s eyes as I shattered apart. Even if he never uttered the memorable "Look at me, lover" he willed it with every caress and every stroke, so there would be no confusion in my mind as to who took me on the mind blowing voyage, I guessed. I needed the intimacy but my true self was in protective mode and would not allow me to go to the place where his perfect image was burned in my mind as I kissed the sky.

“It seems that the invitation to your home wasn’t the only one rescinded.” His voice was a raspy purr as he sucked my most sensitive flesh. “Invite me in lover,” he pleaded, scorching kisses that made me beg for mercy. “Let me see those peepers.” He would not be robbed of his favorite part.

I was breaking him off a little somethin’ somethin’ but he was not getting the whole kit and caboodle. I wasn’t ready to commit to a moment so much more intimate than a physical union. It’s like he could see into my very soul, touch it, consume it and I am lost to him as he feasts. He accepted my non verbal refusal as a challenge and went to work and I went to squirming and a panting and a shaking and a screaming and a scratching and a pulling. I called out to my maker in thanks for making the tongue the strongest muscle in the body.

It was an odd time to be in a quandary and I made a conscious decision to give up the ghost as my resolve wavered under the onslaught. Eric seemed hell bent on answering the age old question of “how many licks does it take to get to the center of my Tootsie pop?” It was at that point, I heard his voice as clear as day and seductive as all get out, flow into my ears “Come . . . with me,” followed by a deep and maniacal laugh. My eyes flung wide as I identified the voice with a soft cry “Felipe!” The name still managed to bounce around the room. My body followed the command in a spasm around Eric.

Eric was so excited that I opened my eyes that it didn’t register to him right away. He chuckled, lightly (well, as much as one can with your mouth full) and continued to taste the rainbow, determined to extract all of my skittles. My hands dug deep into his neck and actually drew blood. He started to slow down and I knew that it had finally caught up with him. He rose to his full height to look me dead in the face.

Hooded glacial blues bore through me. I wasn’t sure if he had actually heard the name until he said “Call me what you will. Just don’t call me late for . . .” and then started to disrobe. That’s what his mouth said but the hungry possessive glare said you will know my name before this is over aaaannd he was checking me into rehab, pronto. Buttons pinged off of objects around us, as he had no patience for them. I was so stunned that my hand stayed glued to my mouth, not trusting my mind or my words. I knew it was him. I heard him. I struggled for breath and my nostrils flared wide in the effort, affording me a sweet tinny aroma that set my senses ablaze. It . . . was . . . blood! It was Eric’s savory blood and it smelled . . . scrumptious.

My mouth watered and then went desert dry. A soft thunk sounded off when his pants, belt and keys hit the floor. He pulled me to him, pressing every intimate inch of himself close to me, and closer, still. Heat stole up my body and I could almost taste the sweet nectar that trickled from the scratch on his neck. My canines actually started to twitch and ache.

His fangs had fully extended and shone in the moonlight like ivory. He desperately wanted to bite me. The mindless need to feed, growing stronger as his sharp fangs grazed my neck. His kisses became hungrier and he trembled with restraint. My blood pulsated in my veins like a lover’s call that pleaded with him to taste the forbidden. He could not, but I could. I must. Like a predator, I watched his every movement and then I struck fast and hard. The blood exploded on my taste buds, danced down my parched throat and quenched a dying thirst. I was surprised that I actually broke the skin. The enticing bouquet of blood triggered an inhuman frenzy.

“Sookie, NO!” were the last words I was able to decipher. He panted and labored for breath that vampires have no use for. The sound of it and the panic drove me wild and I milked him without mercy.

I became aware of my surroundings sometime later. I was lapping at his mutilated neck as if I possessed the necessary coagulant to stop bleeding. Luckily my blunt teeth could not puncture an artery, so the flow was minimal. I watched his injuries heal over right before my eyes.

Eric was beneath me and we had moved to the bed, I noticed. He was as stiff and cold as the dead, the truly dead. His eyes were blinking so I knew that he hadn’t died from shock. He had mentally checked out. He wasn’t even thinking. He had no interest in completing what we had started earlier. Guess I’ll be going to Wal-Mart after all.

We were both drifting into a deep sleep when I felt a powerful surge that had me locking my body around Eric. His every thought and emotion poured in my head but this time he didn’t fight it. I just let it wash over me. I felt his grief about our separation and the excitement of our reunion, his confusion about my mental state and worry about my new appetite. Had we finally crossed the point of no return? He wondered.

Some people were made vampire by accident, after too many blood exchanges with the same vampire. Another possibility is that the person could remain human and become a Renfield, doing anything to get blood from its benefactor and good for nothing else. I felt no different and was not worried about the outcome.

“Lover! Stay with me? I am so sorry. I do not know what is happening. I only know that I must have you.” He kept his face buried in my hair; his voice was low and deep. I didn’t verbally respond but the fact that I was still clinging and clawing, told him all he needed to know. He had ruined me. I would never feel this complete with another. He purposely thought the same to me.

Later, Eric called Dr. Ludwig to have me seen the next night. I would probably have to be drained like when the maenad had clawed me. Eric thought that I had been bewitched. That would explain why I heard Felipe’s voice and why I thought that the vampire king was tormenting me. I believed it was the beguilement of my sorcerer that kept Felipe out. I had asked CJ to remove the wards and the king shows up again. That was no coinkidink and I wasn’t crazy.

During the night, Eric explained how he told Sophie Ann, the former queen of Louisiana, of the many connections that he'd acquired in his long existence of being a vampire. Bill needed information to complete the vampire database that had brought Bill fame and fortune and made a lot of money for the queen, as well. Eric called in a favor from an old friend in Peru who had a wealth of information, set up the interview, the queen sent Bill and the rest is history.

“I told you, when we were first pledged with the knife, that touching you would be a crime punishable by death. It was meant to protect you from the new regime. I never thought that any loyal to me would insane enough to violate the edict.” He sounded disgusted again, just like every other time he spoke of Bill rescuing me from my captors during the Fae war.

“Would it have been better if he let me die from the mortal wound that Lochlan provided by stabbing me?” My voice was full of hurt for myself and for Bill. I’d known that I was taking my last breaths when Bill found me and when he’d fed me his healing elixir of life. “What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to know?”

“He knew the price,” Eric said, without any emotion. “You are making a mockery of his sacrifice with your woman ways.”

“He saved me anyway? Knowing he would have to die for it?” Eric stood and walked over to the window, not bothering to answer the rhetorical question. It burned Eric’s butt that Bill got to go out in a blaze of glory, saving the princess and leaving him to live in the shadow of her knight in shining armor. The fact that Bill did not die only added insult to injury.

“I will not let your precious Bill die.” He was fighting to stay calm and his accent thickened. “This is when my cunning and resourceful nature will shine. I want you to rest assured that you made the best choice in me but it will not be because I am the only one that is left standing. It will be because my love is everyday, in everything I say and everything that I do, in everything that I am. Not in a half ditched fleeting moment of heroism.” I had to read most of what he was saying from his mind. He faced the window and spoke heavy and low. It was as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

My happily ever after was doomed before it started. Maybe it would have been better for him if I hadn’t walked into Fangtasia that night. He would have gone about his vampire existence, never having to stop to deal with the feelings that Sookie Stackhouse evoked or all the other problems that came with the package.

“Don’t be melancholy, lover. You are not an ordinary person so you should not expect to have an ordinary life.” Now that was the truth.

I dozed off and on throughout the night. Vampires were restless at that time; I was used to strange sleep patterns and sleepless nights. I was trying though, but Eric tumultuous thoughts needled at me. He was trying to think happy thoughts and failing miserably. I grew tired of blocking, which I couldn’t do while I was sleeping anyway and asked him to spill the beans. That was like opening a flood gate because he couldn’t wait to tell me. Sharing his news was what made him come to the bar to see me, his thoughts revealed. “There is much that has happened since we last spoke.” Dawn was approaching and I was happy that our time didn’t have to end. “I am to be elevated to a new position soon. I must have you by my side.” The telepath was blindsided.

I sensed his excitement but I felt like I was sinking. He should have been able to pick up on my fears but he was a little too wound up. “The new king of Louisiana cannot exist without his queen,” he whispered. I was confused for a moment. There was no king of Louisiana, only a queen and she was dead. Had the new regime named a king? My heart starting pounding so loudly, that I could feel it pulsating in my ears. He was elated that he finally attained a goal that he’d been denying he wanted, yet striving to achieve for hundreds of years. He became more animated telling me about the coronation ceremony.

I accepted Eric and the crazy world of vampires but I would not close my eyes to the reality of it. “I can’t live a life wondering who will try and kill you next or who will nab me to force your hand.” There was calmness in my voice that alarmed him. “I am happy for you but I don’t want that life for me.” I didn’t want to be a queen (or target) of anything or be reduce to a pawn on the vamp Chess board. As usual, he tried to kiss my fears away. He would never understand how I felt. His thoughts were skewed by the Supe world that he reveled in. I gave up talking about it, resigned to enjoy our time together.

I had stopped talking about it but my mind was in overdrive. All I could think about was the former queen, Sophie Ann and her second in command, Andre. They were both dead now. As a matter of fact, her whole court and husband, who was the king of Arkansas, were dead. I thought of my best friend, Tara and how Franklin Mott, a vampire she was dating, just suddenly traded her off to another vamp, Mickey, in order to clear a debt. Mickey had nearly killed her. It was a barbaric practice and I was terrified of being traded off like a trinket. Felipe was uber powerful and could crush Eric anytime he wanted. The truth was, all he has to do is threaten to harm Eric and I would give in.

“Trust me, Sookie. Our day has finally arrived. The vamps are having a press conference in a few days to introduce their new face to the world. I want you to be there. I think the presentation will calm your fears.” When hell freezes over, I thought. He was truly convinced that he had everything under control, but I wasn’t willing to stake our lives on it. No pun intended. I couldn’t shake my insecurities. “Lover,” he said. “It’s time we take our place in the kingdom.” He smiled as he cradled my face and kissed me. “Welcome to royalty.” Not a good choice of words, buddy.

“If you love something, set it free; if it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was,” was a line my grandmother often quoted when Tara or I swore undying love to yet another pimply faced boy when we were in junior high. I wasn’t sure if I was talking to Eric or just myself. One thing I was sure about, we were both standing at a crossroad.

I woke up alone the next morning and wondered if my experience was a dream. Eric’s bow tie was my single garment. My pj’s were in the ceiling fan and my shirt, on top of the fridge, confirmed the reality. I found rice in nooks and crannies all over the kitchen and on my person.

I went about my morning routine, showered and planned my day. I received a call from Alcide with the lowdown on Jason’s progress as a Werewolf in Training. Jason told Alcide that he had a family friend that he wanted him to meet. Alcide wondered if I knew Preston. I appreciated the update but was disappointed that the pack master didn’t miss the opportunity to proposition me again.

T2 scratched on the door. He never meowed, so I had to pay attention to the cat. I found it ironic that my roomie had another cat named for one of her exes. Her first cat was a whole other set of issues. Amelia had mistakenly changed her boyfriend, Bob, into a furry four legged animal and he stayed that way for months. She had a lot of trouble turning him back. It was the reasons she fled her hometown and came to live with me. Her mentor, Octavia, was displaced after hurricane Katrina and had to live with us for a while. She was able to change him back to a man.

When I opened the door, CJ was leaning against the frame, eyebrows raised. He balanced a beverage holder that held two green teas and two yogurt parfaits. He also held the morning paper under his arm. “Peace?” he said as I inspected him suspiciously and pulled the paper from his arm.

“Why do you keep coming around me? You know your sister is at work.” I was not in the mood to fool with him and was about to tell Merlin to practice his disappearing act when he walked to the steps and sat down, almost in defeat. CJ was interfering too much in my life and it was time to set some boundaries. I pulled on my Reynard Parish hoodie and eased myself down to the cool boards of the porch.  The wood bit through the thin fabric of my Yoga pants. I was ready to light into him when he flashed the money shot: a profile revealing perfect teeth, set in a pretty mouth, golden hazels, caramel skin with a dimple that creased his cheek and a bootylicious chin. That bought my attention for a few moments, although concentrating was another issue.

I took the beverage holder from his hands that appeared to be wobbling under its weight. I placed it atop the paper on the floor of the porch between us. I opened the parfait and put a spoon in it and sweetened the tea. I didn’t care for tea but I was trying to give him a few moments that he seemed to need. “What’s going on?”

“Real talk?” he said.

“Spill it!” I answered, hoping for the short version. He swallowed hard but still didn’t look at me.

“I think . . . um sprung.” He gave a nervous chuckle but he looked more like he was going to cry. “It’s when you have fallen so hard that you will move heaven and earth just to be near. You become a stalker. You want to supply every need.”

“CJ, honey, I’m engaged . . . to Eric.” I held back a blush. Eric and I had our problems but no relationship is perfect. “Are you saying that you are in love with me?” My heart melted. I guess I should be used to Supes being sweet on Sooke Stackhouse but this really took me by surprise. The great and powerful Oz is in love with me. This is rich.

Then he said something that wiped the grin right off my face. “Truth be told, princess, I despise you.”

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