I wrestled with a flood of conflicting emotions as we turned off Hummingbird Road. I was elated to be on Stackhouse soil and dreaded the task ahead.
“Home sweet . . . Have mercy!” Maxwell said, his speech going from happy to horror-struck when my farmhouse came into view. Amelia waited impatiently on the porch, a trembling ball of tension. Customarily, Amelia looked like the typical soccer mom. She always had a neat appearance and her designer attire quietly bared her economic status of the upper echelon. Even when she lazed around the house, she looked good. As we crunched up the gravel driveway, I barely recognized my house guest.
There was no use reading the young witch’s mind. Her cheese had done slid clear off her cracker. Amelia was holding on to one of the support beams for dear life. She had a bright blue scarf tied around her head and a red plaid flannel lumberjack shirt, which dwarfed her. It belonged to her boyfriend, Tray and was so long that it nearly reached her ankles. One short, neon green sock and a long, fluffy red one covered her feet. Spikes of her short hair stuck out randomly. There was a white powdery substance on one side of her face (maybe flour?) and she looked sweaty, like she had been running.
Eric lifted my battered, bandaged body from the van. The night air was cold and he tightened the blanket that was wrapped around me. Maxwell Lee stood at attention after he opened the van door for us. He was heavily armed underneath his business suit and long overcoat, I noticed. I found it strange since vamp royalty were the only ones I’d seen traveling with armed guards and vamps didn’t usually wear coats.
Amelia flashed a brief nervous smile at me and visually rummaged the exiting occupants of the vehicle. She was about to make a mad dash and look inside the van but paused on the top step when Eric and I reached the bottom.
He held her gaze so long that I thought he was glamouring her. Her bloodshot eyes welled with tears as she frantically searched his for answers. Eric slowly shook his head. I will never forget the look of desperation on her face. It reminded me that our victory in the Fae War had come at such a high cost. She made the saddest most agonizing sigh and slumped against the door frame, distraught and deserted.
Like a coward, I hid behind Eric’s silent communication. It saved me from bearing the bad news, that the lifeless body of her man – Tray Dawson, werewolf, implacable fighter and muscle for hire, with wounds too numerous to count and too extraordinary to account for – was placed back in his home, per my request. He deserved a proper burial by people who loved him instead of being dumped somewhere like a penniless scavenger or scalawag.
The police would file his death away as a botched burglary attempt or a shady deal gone awry. There was no way the authorities would accept the true account of what really happened; The Fae poisoned Tray while he was guarding me, a telepath, from the evil Fae enemies of the eldest Fae Prince, who was also my Great-grandfather, Niall. Then they kidnapped Tray from his home while he was trying to recuperate from said poison and tortured him while simultaneously torturing me, whom they also kidnapped, and placed in a different room of a secret location somewhere in Arkansas. We were finally saved by Niall and Bill, who may or may not have traveled through the Fae realm to find us, but the rescue didn’t come soon enough for Dawson. Claudine, Eric and Clancy joined us. The Fae later invaded the Supe hospital, where we were being treated and Tray used his last breath to distract my would-be killer, Breandon, who was also a Fae Prince. Breandon delivered the final blow that ended his (Tray’s) life. The distraction that Tray provided gave a weakened Bill, who was poisoned with silver by my captors, just enough time to kill Breandon, thus saving me and ending the war.
That’s a lot to digest, even for Amelia, who knew all of the Supe secrets. Most people just can’t handle the truth, so I’d better keep that tidbit of information to myself and forgo the trip to the Shady Acres Mental Ward. The vampires, Weres and Shifters had revealed themselves to the world but that same world was not ready to receive the Fae. I don’t think we ever will.
“Amelia!” I croaked. My voice sounded foreign, dry and haggard. Calling her name throbbed a pain in my throat that burned like fire.
“Pam, tend to Amelia.” Eric snapped the order, not breaking his stride as he climbed the steps. Pam was already in route to Amelia’s aide. I couldn’t help but cry. Every ounce of her pain weighed heavily on my heart.
The werewolf and witch had been an item for a while, and had become very close since the Were Revelation. The fact that they had two-natures in common carried them through. They were supposed to have dinner with her father on the weekend, I’d read in her mind. If you knew Amelia, you’d know she wouldn’t introduce anyone to the judgmental and overbearing Copely Carmicheal, unless things were getting serious.
We passed Amelia’s crumpled frame as Eric glided through the front door of my farmhouse, cradling me. I reached my hand out to comfort her but it was evident that she was paralyzed with grief.
“Sookie, you cannot help her now,” Eric whispered. I cried into his chest. The living room was toasty warm from the roaring flames in the fireplace. The aroma of homemade cobbler amplified as we neared the kitchen. It had “extra cinnamon, just how Tray liked it,” I choked. The lump in my throat was so big that I could scarcely swallow.
Pam spoke in a low monotone to Amelia as she escorted her into the house. “Pam will take care of her, lover. I need you to rest. Rest. Please.” His voice was soft and sympathetic at first. “If I feel that your rehabilitation is hindered in any way I will remove you from this place,” he warned sternly, allowing the dictatorial sheriff to add his two cents. I wanted to protest but I could tell he meant every word. His eyes burned into mine as he gave me a final look of warning and I gave in.
I was too exhausted to fight anyway and I knew he was right. Besides, being home was good medicine for me. This old farmhouse was filled with the love and dedication that had nurtured ten generations of Stackhouses. It had been my home since my brother and I were orphaned when I was just seven years old and my playground since I could walk. It was old and worn but there is truly no place like home.
I sulked into my pillow that smelled of fresh April showers. Amelia had been doing laundry as she waited for the news. She worked feverishly when she was worried about something. I could see that she had been mighty anxious. The room was a sterile clean and I was certain that she had been scrubbing with a very strong disinfectant for hours. Every surface had been wiped, even the window and sills. My bedding had crispness to it. It felt like she actually starched them or something. The covers and sheets were tight to the mattress like at a hotel or the hospital. It was immaculate. Poor Amelia had worked herself into a frenzy.
Amelia finally found her voice in the quiet of the night. She let out a blood curdling, mournful scream that forced my vampire to his feet in alarm. Unnerving vampires took some doing. Even a cold Viking could empathize with her grief. My heart sank. Eric reached down to hold my hand caressing it gently. She began to wail, first loud and then, what seemed like hours later, gradually brewed down to a low howling. “He was warded,” Amelia mumbled repeatedly, “He was warded.”
I guess Dawson’s death would haunt the young witch for some time to come. I had to let her know that this was my fault, not hers. After all, he died protecting me. Tray Dawson was the strongest werewolf I ever knew. I thought he was invincible.
Eric held one hand in front of my shoulder, stopping just before he touched me. He knew exactly what I was thinking and knelt in front of me, blocking my motion to rise.
“Remember, the Fae had some magic of their own, Sookie. They practiced their arts on him,” he said dismally, staring past me. I lay back on my pillow again with the realization that this was going to be the tone of the night and I was helpless in preventing that.
I tried to relax but my thoughts kept going back to my own traumatic ordeal. Cleanliness was not a priority for my captors. They had held me in a filthy, abandoned house that smelled of mold and mildew. I wished that I could bathe and shared my request with Eric. If I scrubbed hard enough and long enough maybe, I could wash away all the bad that had been done to me.
I had nearly bled to death when Bill found me. Bill had given me only a little of his blood before Neave, who he thought was dead, bit him with her silver capped teeth. Eric hadn’t mentioned it, but I know that Bill’s scent was coming through my pores, not to mention our closeness on the ride home. I wonder if that was why our bond felt so weak. It had to be driving Eric crazy and I was surprised that he wasn’t getting out the branding iron.
Maybe Claudine bathed me while I was unconscious, I wondered. She was sitting so peacefully next to me when I woke in the hospital. She told me of her new bundle of joy she was expecting while she rocked and knitted a garment for the new life in her womb that would never come to be. The thought of my fairy godmother sent me reeling. She was killed in the Fae war, too.
“Sponge bath?” Eric said, pulling me back from despair. Yes, it worked. “Let me take care of that for you.” He quickly went into the action and within a few moments I had my favorite pink, nylon, night gown, panties and clean towels lying on the bed. He placed a bottle of liquid soap that smelled of lavender, and a basin that belonged to my grandmother on my night table. My grandmother used the basin to wash my brother and me when we were little. It was a cream color, ceramic with an ornate design. Eric poured warm water into the basin from a matching pitcher.
“Tell Nurse Eric where to scrub.” That got a smile out of me. Eric proceeded to clean every inch of me, changing the water several times. He worked quickly and tried not to grimace while he changed the bandages on my arms, torso and thighs.
I relaxed back on the bed and admired my tall, pale and toothsome groomer as he diligently worked. It was an inappropriate time to get excited but, hell, it was Eric! He washed me down as far as possible. He washed up as far as possible. Then he washed possible . . . twice!
He looked longingly at the vein in my groin area. It was his favorite vein to drink from and was now covered with bites and cuts and bruises. He placed the gentlest of kisses on my, um, lips and my whole body shivered. Recognizing that I was too overwhelmed, he finally abandoned my nether region, promising to return when I was less likely to go into convulsions. Dainty, white, laced panties were set in place as a deterrent. He stared at the white triangle so long that I thought he was going to rip it to shreds. Hesitantly, he moved on.
He saved my feet for last. It was one of the few parts of my body that the Fae hadn’t touched. Probably ran out of time, I figured. I was happy to note that all of my toes were present and accounted for. Can't really rock cute sandals with missing digits. My pedicure was holding up too. Eric knelt on the floor in front of me. He took his time, soaking and scrubbing and massaging, which completely relaxed me. He looked into my eyes and caressed my instep with a firm hand.
My instep, like my palm, had a direct line to a very sensitive part of my anatomy. My eyelids tightened in pleasure and I sucked in my lower lip to stifle a yelp.
Eric knew when he hit my sweet spot and his fangs elongated as he watched my face contort. He smiled a little and ran his tongue over the sharp tips of his canines. The visual was arresting and made me think of that little erotic trick that he does with his fang on my . . . oooh, well, let’s not go there. I’ll just say that it’s a guaranteed toe curler.
I was sooo relaxed and I dreamed of repaying my honey when I recovered. We would finish my massage and I could reciprocate.
Dr. Ludwig’s injection of pain reliever was beginning to wear off. Before I could utter a word, Eric was in the bathroom. One minute he was sitting there, I saw a blur motion toward my bathroom and the next minute he stood in front of me with a filled glass of water.
His movement was as fluid as the water he carried, not spilling a drop. He pulled the pills from his pocket and ripped through the safety cap while opening the bottle. I guess they didn’t use safety caps in his day. Vampires did not use prescriptions of any kind since they healed on their own so fast. He tapped what was left of the container in his palm. A single bright blue pill rolled out.
“Dr. Ludwig said that you would need this soon,” he said. I followed his instruction, opening my mouth wide as he placed the pill that seemed too large to swallow, on my tongue. He held my head up and put the glass of water to my lips and I drank. I forced the pill down and took in more water. When I lay back, he stroked my face with a cool hand and lightly chuckled.
“What?” I said. I wondered what a vampire could find amusing at a time like this.
“I wish I were that blue pill,” he chided with a devilish grin. “Sleep well, my Lover.” He reached up and swiped his fingers over my eyelids encouraging me to sleep.