Page 13

 Charlaine Harris

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"You didn't feel that way, too?"
"Honestly, it was the equivalent of being insulted by a pork chop my boyfriend was eating," I said. And then I was smart enough to shut my mouth.
Eric smiled down at me. I would have given a lot to wipe that smile off his face. I took advantage of Ambroselli being distracted by her cell phone to smile back at Eric. He understood my expression well enough. His mouth straightened out. Over his shoulder, I could see that Bill looked unmistakably pleased.
"So, Ms. Ravenscroft, you told Kym Rowe to go, she left, and she died," Ambroselli said, by way of resuming the questioning. But she didn't seem focused on Pam the way she had been, and I could see that she was preparing to move out.
"Yes, that's right," Pam said. She'd read Ambroselli's body language the same way I had, and she was eyeing the detective thoughtfully.
"Please stay where you are. I have to return to Mr. Northman's place to check something out," Ambroselli said. She was on her feet, gathering up her shoulder bag. "Givens, make sure everyone stays here until I say they can go."
And just like that, she left.
Givens, a man with a starved, concave face, looked very unhappy. He called a few more people in-all men, I noticed-and assigned one to each batch of us. "If they need to go to the restroom, send someone with 'em, don't let 'em go alone," he instructed the heavy guy in charge of our little group. "She's the only one who should need to go," he added, pointing at me.
Bored, I turned my chair around to watch the Nevada vamps for a while. Felipe, Horst, and Angie seemed to have had a lot of experience with the police. They sat together in silence, though a little downturn to one corner of Felipe's lips told me he was mighty displeased. As a king, he probably hadn't been treated like an ordinary vampire in a long time-not that humans knew who or what he was, but ordinarily Felipe would have several layers of insulation between him and the regular pitfalls of the vampire world. If I had to pick a word to describe the king of Arkansas, Nevada, and Louisiana, that word would be "miffed."
He could hardly blame Eric for this turn of events. He might, anyway.
I switched my gaze to the human group in the glass-enclosed office. T-Rex was signing autographs for some of the uniforms. Cherie and Viveca were preening themselves, proud to be in such illustrious company. Under his air of just-a-good-ole-boy, T-Rex was bored. He would have been glad to be somewhere else. When the little cluster of cops dispersed, he pulled out his cell phone and called his manager. I couldn't tell what they were talking about, but from his thoughts I could read that T-Rex couldn't think of anyone else to call in the middle of the night. He was tired of conversation with his female companions, especially Cherie, who could not keep her mouth shut.
I spotted a familiar face among the cops going to and fro in the big room. "Hey, Detective Coughlin!" I said, oddly happy to see someone I knew. The middle-aged detective swung himself around, using his belly as a fixed point. His hair was shorter than ever, and a bit grayer.
"Miss Stackhouse," he said, coming over to us. "You found any more bodies?"
"No, sir," I said. "But a woman was found dead in the front yard of Eric's place, and I was in the house." I jerked my head toward Eric, in case Coughlin didn't know who he was. Pretty unlikely that a police officer in Shreveport wouldn't know the city's most prominent vampire, but it could happen.
"So, who you going with now, young lady?" Coughlin didn't approve of me, but he didn't hate me, either.
"Eric Northman," I said, and I realized I didn't sound at all happy about that.
"Out with the furries and in with the coldies, huh?"
Eric had been talking to Pam in a very low voice, but now he turned to stare at me.
"I guess so." The first time I'd seen Detective Coughlin, I'd been with Alcide Herveaux. The second time, I'd been with Quinn the weretiger. They had been in their human forms then, and he hadn't known their second identity since the two-natured hadn't revealed their existence. By now he'd figured it out. Mike Coughlin might be slow and unimpressive, but he wasn't stupid.
"So you're with the party that came in with T-Rex?" he asked.
I wasn't used to the humans being more interesting than the vampires. I smiled. "Yes, I met him tonight at Eric's."
"You ever see him wrestle?"
"No. He's a big guy, huh?"
"Yeah, and he does a lot for the community, too. He takes toys to the kids in the hospital at Christmas and Easter."
So, though T-Rex was not a wereanimal, he was two-faced. One side of him did community service and helped area charities raise money. The other side of him hit opponents upside the head with chairs and made out with women on other people's dining room tables.
Mike Coughlin said, "If they rope me in to help question, I'll ask for you."
"Thanks," I said, wondering if that was really anything to smile about. "But I hope I'm through with questions."
He went off to have a closer look at Thad Rexford. Pam, Eric, Bill, and I sat together without exchanging a word.
Vampires are super at silence. They just go into motionless vampire mode. You would swear they were statues, they get so still. I don't know what they think about when they do this; maybe they don't think at all, but just switch themselves off. It's almost impossible for a human to do this. I guess deep meditation would be the closest state a breather could achieve, and I am no practitioner of meditation, deep or shallow.
After a while, during which nothing much happened at all, Detective Coughlin came over to tell us we could go. He gave no explanation. Eric didn't request one. I had been on the point of asking if I could curl up under someone's desk. I was too tired to summon the energy to be resentful at our treatment.
Pam whipped out her cell phone to call Fangtasia so someone would pick us up. Dawn wasn't far away; Felipe and his party wanted to go directly to their vampire-safe rooms at the Trifecta, and the Shreveport vamps didn't want to wait on a human cab.
While we were standing outside waiting on our ride, the three vampires turned to me. "What was it the man on the telephone was telling Cara Ambroselli?" Pam asked. "What did they find?"
"They found a little glass vial, like florists stick individual flowers in?"
The vampires looked puzzled. I measured one off with my fingers. "Just big enough for one flower stem to soak in water," I said. "The vial may have had a stopper on it, but they didn't find that. The vial was on the ground underneath her. They think it had been tucked in her bra. It had traces of blood."
They all considered that. "I'll bet you a demon's dick that she had a bit of fairy blood in it," Pam said. "She came into the house somehow, and when she got close to Eric, she uncorked the little vial and made herself irresistible."
"Except he could have resisted," I muttered, but they all ignored me. "And if that's what happened, where is the stopper?"
We were all too tired to talk about this interesting development any further; at least, I was, and the other three didn't.
In five minutes, Palomino showed up in a candy-apple-red Mustang. She was wearing the uniform the female waitstaff wore at the Trifecta, and there wasn't much to it. I was too sleepy to ask her when she'd begun working at the casino. I climbed into the backseat with Bill, while Pam sat in Eric's lap in the passenger front seat. We didn't even discuss the seating.
Eric broke the silence by asking Palomino if anyone had heard from Mustapha.
The young vamp glanced over at him. Her hair was like corn silk and her skin was like milky caramel. The unusual combination had earned her the nickname, and that was the only thing I knew to call her. I had no idea what had been written on her birth certificate.
"No, Master. No one has seen or heard from Mustapha."
Bill silently took my hand. I silently let him. In the heat, his hand felt pleasantly cool.
"Everything all right at the club?" Eric said. "At least, as far as you know."
"Yes, Master. I heard there was one disagreement, but Thalia settled it."
"How big was the bill for this settling?"
"A broken arm, a broken leg."
Thalia was ancient, incredibly strong, and notoriously short on patience.
"No furniture?"
"Not this time."
"Indira and Maxwell Lee kept an eye on things?"
"Maxwell Lee says so," Palomino said cautiously.
Eric laughed; not a big laugh, but something in the chuckle range. "Damned with faint praise," he said.
Indira and Maxwell, who lived and worked in Eric's sheriffdom, Area Five, were required to put in so many hours a month at the bar so Fangtasia could boast that every night there were real vampires in the club. That was the big draw for the tourists. While Indira and Maxwell (and most of the other Area Five vamps) were dutiful about their bar appearances, they were not enthusiastic.
Palomino and Eric might have solved the mysteries of the universe during the rest of their conversation, but I didn't hear their conclusions. I fell asleep. When we arrived at Eric's, Bill had to help me scramble out of the backseat. Palomino pulled away the instant Bill slammed the door. Pam quickly got into her own car for the short drive to her house, casting an anxious glance at the sky as she backed out of the driveway.
If a crime-scene team had been at the house, its job was finished. We had to enter through the garage door, since there was tape around the place where Kym had lain. I trudged into the house, so groggy I was only partly aware of what was going on around me.
Bill didn't have time to get back to Bon Temps, so he was going to take one of the fiberglass "guest" pods that Eric kept in the second upstairs bedroom. He headed toward the back of the house immediately, leaving Eric and me by ourselves. I looked around me in a dazed way. The kitchen had an array of dirty bottles and glasses by the sink, but I noticed that the garbage bag was gone. The police must have taken it.
I told Eric, "Mustapha had that door open when I came in," and I pointed to the door onto the backyard patio. Without a word, Eric went over to the door. It was unlocked. He took care of that while I started across the living room. It wasn't too disordered since Felipe, Horst, and Angie had neatened it, but still its disheveled state disturbed me. I began straightening chairs and gathering up the few remaining bottles and glasses to take to the kitchen.
"Leave it be, Sookie," Eric said.
I froze. "I know this isn't my house," I said, "but this mess just looks so nasty. I'd hate to get up to face this."
"The issue is not ownership of the house. The issue is that you are exhausted and yet you feel compelled to do the maids' job. I hope you're spending the rest of the night? I would feel uneasy if you drove back, as tired as you must be."
"I guess I'll stay," I said, though I was still far from satisfied with the way things stood between us. If I'd been strong enough, I would have left. But it would be very foolish to start driving home and risk having a wreck.
Eric was suddenly right in front of me, and he put his arms around me. I started to pull away. "Sookie," he said. "Let's make this right. I have enemies on every side, and I don't want to have one here at home." I made myself hold still. I reviewed everything I'd told myself while I'd been taking my time-out in the bathroom. That seemed to have been a week ago, instead of hours.
"Okay," I said slowly. "Okay. I know that I should be totally all right with what you did with that woman. I know if people are willing, there's no reason you shouldn't take a sip from them, especially since she was actually booby-trapped. I think you could have held out if you'd really wanted to. I know my reaction is emotional, not logical. But it's the reaction I'm having. I also know, in my head, that I love you. I'm just not feeling it at this moment. Oh, by the way, I have something to confess to you, too, regarding another man."
Ha! That sharpened him up. Eric's eyebrows flew up and he stepped back a little, looking down at me and very nearly scowling. "What?" he said, biting the word out as if it tasted bad. I felt more cheerful.
"Remember, I told you I was going to Hooligans to see Claude strip?" I said. "There were other guys, too, mostly fae, who did, well, almost the full monty." I raised one eyebrow and tried to look inscrutable.
Eric's mouth quirked in what was very nearly a smile. "Claude is a beautiful man. How do I stack up against the fairy?" he asked.
"Hmmm. The fairy was stacked all right," I said, looking off in another direction ostentatiously.
Eric squeezed me. "Sookie?"
"Eric! You know that you look pretty good naked."
"Pretty good?"
"That's right, fish for compliments," I said.
"That's not all I'm fishing for," he whispered. He picked me up by sliding his hands under my rear, and suddenly I was at just the right height to kiss him.
So an evening that had held so much that was bad ended in something good, after all, and for fifteen minutes I utterly forgot that I was in the same bed he'd sat on while he took blood from someone else ... which may have been the target Eric was aiming for. He hit it, dead center.
He got downstairs in the nick of time.
Chapter 5
I didn't roll out of bed until noon. I had slept very heavily, and I'd had bad dreams. I woke up groggy, and I didn't feel refreshed at all. It didn't occur to me to check my cell phone until I heard it buzzing in my purse-but that wasn't until I'd drunk some coffee, showered and put on the change of clothes I kept in the closet, and (no matter what Eric had said) gathered up all the dirty "service items," as flight attendants call them.