Sookie sat at the bar with a cup of coffee and looked over the cards she had her ‘speech’ written on. She felt like hell after everything that had happened the night before. When she had left for work, Jackie was still bouncing off the walls from her infusion of Vampire blood. The Were-Witch had been too wired to sleep after they dropped off a glamoured Hoyt and had decided the best way to wind down was to make four gallons of lentil soup. The Telepath had brought most of it to Merlotte’s with her to put on the menu and had given Lafayette Betty’s recipe for cheese scones to serve with it. Although August in Louisiana wasn’t really the time of year for soup, Sookie hoped that people would order it to satisfy their curiosity about Scottish cooking.
The roughly sketched plans for her idea were strewn on the bar in front of her when Lafayette and Arlene arrived. Terry, Holly, Danielle and Charlsie came in not long after. Sookie took a deep breath and nodded to her staff before asking Lafayette and Arlene to join her standing.
“Thanks for comin’ in today. I know for a couple of ye’s it’s your day off and others won’t be startin’ until later. I’ll try no to keep ye’s too long. First of all I want to thank ye’s for the amazin’ job ye’s do every single day, I’m sure Sam is proud of the effort each and every one o’ us puts in to keep Merlotte’s going in his name.”
There were murmurs of agreement through the group and a lot of nodding. Sookie fiddled with the cards in her hands and Arlene raised a questioning brow to Lafayette over her manager’s shoulder.
“Right, so … umm … Merlotte’s has been doin’ really well but I’m not.” There were gasps of surprise and Sookie could hear a couple of the waitresses wondering if she was sick in some way. “I’m tired, I haven’t had a day off in over a month and that’s why Arlene and Laffy are standing next to me here. I need to share the responsibility of this place. You all know that Arlene is taking on a bit more but recently Laffy has been a star helping out and taking on things that he really isn’t paid for. I want to change that.”
As Sookie spoke about her plans to have Arlene and Lafayette as assistant managers and recruit a couple of waitresses and busboys to ease the load, everyone was wondering where the money was coming from to pay for all of it. The Telepath had been keeping track of everyone’s thoughts, trying to make sure her announcement was answering all of their questions before they asked them. She picked up the stack of drawings from the bar and handed each of them a copy.
“This is how we’re going to be able to afford it. I’ve spoken to Mrs. Merlotte and she’s trying to find a buyer for Sam’s trailer. The land that it sits on will be turned into a beer garden with a play area where families can sit together, we don’t get a lot of people bringing kids in because … well it’s a bar! They don’t want their kids hanging around folk like Jane Bodehouse!”
Everyone laughed at that and Arlene chimed in that the beer garden was a great idea for getting people to bring their kids there to eat. Lafayette was thinking about how much more work there would need to be in the kitchen, more work than he could handle. But Sookie had accounted for every snag in the plan. Most of them didn’t need any convincing at all, they were happy that Merlotte’s was doing well enough to expand – that meant their jobs were secure. Terry was doubtful but soon understood and was happy to be moving into the kitchen with Lafayette, being behind the bar wasn’t really something he liked to do. Arlene was pleased that she would no longer need to wear the white shirt of a waitress, but was disappointed when she was told she would need to wear similar protective footwear to Sookie in case she had to move stock for any reason. Sookie liked her steel toe-cap Doc Martins, they were 14 hole cherry reds and she’d had them for almost ten years now. The Telepath referred to them as her shit-kickers, Arlene referred to them as dyke-boots.
“So, are you guys in?”
It would be hard work and there would be some disruption for a while, but everyone clapped excitedly and congratulated Sookie on her vision to make Merlotte’s more successful. Sookie just hoped that Mrs. Merlotte would be as enthusiastic when she came to visit in a few days.
Adele whooped and giggled as she was spun around on the dance floor. The monthly Ceilidh* on the Renfrew Ferry was a sell out, as usual, and the American was entranced by the music, dancing and the sheer number of men in kilts. Betty had told her it would probably be just like a barn dance but it was so much more. The band master winked at Adele as he explained to the unfamiliar how to do the Gay Gordons and Adele blushed as he asked her to come on to the small stage and run through it with him.
Jim laughed and squeezed his wife to his side. “Your pal is having a right good time, look at her giein’ it laldy* up there!”
“Aye, I think she’s gettin’ a lumber* the night!”
When the dance was over, and all of the tired bodies were filing out of the door, Adele felt someone grip her arm lightly. She turned to see the band master smiling at her; she allowed him to pull her to one side and raised her head to look into his twinkling eyes.
“I didnae get yer name bonny lass.”
“Oh my! My name is Adele Stackhouse, and you are?”
“William Burnham, but my friends ca’ me Billy. Ye’ve got a right couthie* accent there. Did ye enjoy yer wee birl* on the flair*?”
Adele smiled a smile that made her look crazy. If Sookie had been there she would have known at that moment exactly where she got her smile from.
(*Ceilidh is pronounced Kay-lee. Giein’ it laldy means to put your all into something. A lumber is when you meet someone on a night out. Couthie means nice. Birl means spin and flair is floor.)
Lafayette was at the bar looking at the staff rota that Sookie had made. He was impressed but he had known there was more to Sookie than met the eye when she started at the bar. He thought back to her first day when she balled out Danielle for bitching about Arlene to her. Sookie had proven to be a strict but very fair manager, Lafayette hated to admit it but she ran a much tighter ship than Sam ever did. He smiled at Arlene as she came over for a pitcher of beer.
“So fellow assistant manager, we rockin’ this joint or what? Can you imagine any o’ this shit goin’ down if Sammy were still kickin’ around?”
Arlene shook her head. “I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead but compared to Sookie, Sam wasn’t that great a manager. Aren’t you a little mad that you won’t have as much time to party as before?”
“Shit, you kiddin’ me sweetheart? All that partyin’ was me tryin’ not ta be bored in this bumfuck town. With all the new stuff our little leadah has in the works I won’t have time ta be bored!”
“Speaking of our leader, where is she, back in the office?”
Lafayette nodded. “Yeah she’s lookin’ into buildin’ a website and puttin’ out ads for new workers. What do you think about havin’ a weekly crawfish boil in the new family section?”
“Oh yeah! That would be great!” Arlene dug the sketch of the bar from her apron and spread it between them. “And I was thinking that if we moved the dumpsters to here, the side room to be extended and we could hire it out for parties.”
Sookie smiled as she stayed out of sight in the corridor. It seemed that not only were her two friends happy with their promotions, they had been inspired by her ideas. She walked out the rear entrance and looked to the sky.
“I hope yer okay with this Sam. I only wish ye were here to see it.”
“Talkin’ to yourself?” Sookie spun round and came face to face with one of the wolves from the night before, she pulled back her arm ready to strike out but the Were held up his hands and stepped back. “Whoa! No need for violence doll!”
“Really? Did ye say the same last night when my friends were bein’ brutalised? What do ye want?”
“I got a call from Deidre Merlotte, she asked me to come out and quote her for making some changes here.”
“I see. Can I have yer name?”
“Alcide Herveaux, and if I remember correctly you’re Sookie Stackhouse.” Sookie nodded. “Deidre gave me your name but I didn’t make the connection until I saw you. So, since you’re the manager and apparently this is all your idea, why don’t you tell me what changes you wanted?”
Sookie was wary as she walked Alcide around the area, pointing out where she wanted fencing and paving and explaining where the back door was going to be moved to. Alcide made notes and chewed on the end of his pen while she spoke. Sookie took him back to her office to show him the products she’d seen online that she thought would be perfect for the project. Once Alcide had taken more notes, she brought him out to the bar and introduced him to Arlene and Lafayette before walking him back out to his truck.
“So, I know it’s doable but is it affordable?”
Alcide nodded. “Deidre gave me a ball park figure that she’d like it to come to, it’ll be more than that but I’m sure she won’t mind.”
Sookie smiled at him. “Really? I think she would mind. And I think we’ll get everything done for exactly that ball park figure. Your pack is responsible for a blood offense on two people I consider family, I’m sure you could even push the price down a bit lower.”
“Whoa there lady! I get that you’re pissed off but I don’t think you understand how things work.”
“I grew up with a pack, don’t patronise me. I know what I’m entitled to, so get things moving.”
Without giving Alcide a chance to respond Sookie walked off back to the bar and swapped out with Lafayette so he could take a break.
Jackie woke up from her nap and went through to the kitchen. She cleaned every surface, even inside the oven and the fridge. She’d never felt better but no matter how hard she scrubbed she still felt restless and unsatisfied. Checking the time she thought maybe she was hungry and made a large lunch for herself. She had just started eating when there was a knock at the door. Jackie knew it was Hoyt by scent and found herself salivating with another kind of hunger.
Hoyt shifted from foot to foot on the porch, smiling when the door opened but finding himself quickly pulled inside and thrown on the floor. Jackie hovered over him and his eyes widened as she straddled him and covered his mouth with her own. Fuelled by their own desires and the infusion of Longshadow’s blood, they gave themselves over to carnal needs. There were no words spoken, the silence of the farmhouse was only broken by moans of passion and the sound of flesh on flesh as Jackie and Hoyt succumbed to their animal instincts.
Sookie waved goodbye to Arlene and Lafayette as they finished their shift, longing to go home at the same time and take a very much needed nap. She knew she looked awful, her eyes had dark circles around them from lack of sleep and she noticed her shorts were a little loose. The Telepath frowned and tried to remember the last time she had three square meals in a day. She went to the shelves behind the bar and opened a large bag of chips, munching on them between customers at the bar and wishing she hadn’t taken home the box of treats Bobby brought over the day before. A sugar rush would have been quite welcome at that moment.
“Penny for them.”
Sookie looked up to find Eric in front of her and wondered where the day had gone. “Hi Eric. I can’t leave the bar right now, I’m the only one here licensed to tend, so you’ll need to wait a while to speak to me.”
“Well, I would like the record to show that I’m here at 8pm, well before 10pm, and you still owe me. I will return later.”
The Telepath nodded. “That’s cool.”
Eric watched as she went to the other end of the bar. She looked drawn and obviously hadn’t slept well recently. He remembered what she said about the amount of hours she worked and wondered when the last time she had a day off was. The Vampire stopped and mentally slapped himself. He shouldn’t be concerned with whether Sookie had time to relax. He shouldn’t really be concerned about her full stop. But he was and he couldn’t help himself. Slowly but surely, Sookie was getting under Eric’s skin and she had no idea how different she was from the other women he was surrounded by.
It was an hour before closing time when Hoyt and Jackie came into Merlotte’s and Sookie raised an eyebrow when she noticed their flushed cheeks and Hoyt’s rumpled clothing. The Telepath noticed Eric walk in behind them and raise his head to take a deep sniff of the air before he started chuckling.
“You see what you’re missing out on by denying your desires Sookie?”
Sookie narrowed her eyes at him and went to see if the young couple wanted something to drink. When she next got close to him the vampire caught her attention.
“Sookie, do you have any Trueblood?”
The entire bar stopped what they were doing and turned to look at Eric. Sookie closed her eyes and Eric swore he could see her lips move as she counted to ten. When she opened her eyes again she leaned in close to Eric across the bar.
“I’m sorry, Eric, we don’t. Why don’t ye go and wait in my office?”
Eric looked at the patrons of the bar, some had stood up and he could hear others muttering about how if Vampires knew what was good for them they wouldn’t show their faces in a good place like Merlotte’s. Every instinct screamed at him to extend his fangs and show the humans who was in charge but he stopped himself. He knew that would only make trouble for Sookie. Instead he stood from the bar stool and held his arms out to the side.
“I mean you no harm. I know you have had … problems with a previous Vampire who came here but we are as different from each other as you are. I ask that you don’t judge me by that other Vampires behaviour. I have great respect for Sookie and I know many of you do too. So, in that, we have something in common.”
Sookie watched with interest as some of the customers sat down again but a couple came closer to Eric with anger in their eyes and violence in their hearts. She walked out from behind the bar and stood in front of Eric, staring at the two who approached him.
“Sit back doon or leave, guys.”
“He don’t belong here Sookie. We started comin’ to this bar because it ain’t vamp friendly and now you of all people want to start treatin’ ‘em like they’re normal or somethin’?”
Sookie recognised one of them as Whit, he only first came in to Merlotte’s a couple of weeks back but Sookie could read from him that he’d hoped she would let him use the bar to recruit members for the Fellowship of the Sun seeing as she had killed a Vampire herself.
“Well, Eric has proven to me that no all Vampires will kill ye as soon as look at ye. I’ve let go o’ the hate and you should too. There will be no violence or hate in this bar. This isnae the place for you Whit.” She stayed in the same spot until Whit and his friend had walked out of the door. “If anybody else has a problem with payin’ customers of whatever species walk out now or haud yer tongue.”
Satisfied that the two Fellowship goons were the only ones that really had a problem with Eric, Sookie nodded to the Vampire as he sat back down and promised him she’d order some Trueblood to come in with the next delivery.
Whit Spradlin and Danny Boling sat in Whit’s truck, seething that they’d been turned out of Merlotte’s because of a Vampire. They’d already called for back-up, an hour at the most and they’d be able to get this show on the road. No-one messed with the Fellowship and soon that big blond vamper and the bimbo bar manager would know all about it.
There were very few customers left but Sookie couldn’t wait for everyone to leave and begin closing down the bar. She remembered she was opening the next day and almost sobbed with exhaustion. Soon Hoyt was leaving with Jackie. Probably for more sex, Sookie thought bitterly and the only the Telepath and the Vampire were left.
“Shall I help you count the take? It will be quicker.” Eric offered.
“If you like.” Sookie shrugged. “I suppose the quicker I’m done with this the sooner you can tell me what you want from me.”
“You catch on far too quickly Sookie.” Eric smiled at her.
The close down was finished in less than half the time it usually took and Sookie poured herself a shot of whiskey in preparation for Eric’s demands. It was strange to her, drinking when someone was there. She always had to wait until she was alone before, in case her mental shield failed, but with Eric she didn’t need to have it up in the first place. They sat at a booth across from each other and Sookie spread her hands palm down on the table.
“So, what’s it to be? Free reading? Blood? Don’t say sex, because you know how I’ll react.” She smirked at him and he barked out a laugh.
“I’ve been thinking about your safety and that you are in debt to me. You will let me claim you as mine.”
“Right, I’m tryin’ to stay calm here but claimin’ is a possession thing an I have no intention of bein’ anybody’s possession.” Sookie drummed her fingertips on the wooden surface and tried to contain her anger.
“If I claim you, then no other Vampire can. It will keep you safe and it will also explain your presence when you do Telepathy work for me.”
Sookie calmed a little but not completely. “And what do you get out of it?”
“You. Your blood and, when you’re sick of fighting the chemistry between us, your body.”
The Telepath sighed and rubbed at her temples. She was tired of everything, both physically and mentally. Eric felt her fatigue and for the smallest of moments, regretted backing her into a corner. He wanted her to be his by her own choosing but he also wanted her to be safe.
“If it makes it more appealing, I will provide you with a disguise so your shame can be hidden behind a pseudonym.” The Vampire grinned and Sookie laughed lightly.
“Actually that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. You know if I say ‘yes’, I’ll be on the internet searching for a way to renounce it if you piss me off right?” Eric nodded. “Okay then.”
Sookie extended her right hand and Eric looked at it for a second before clasping it in his own and shaking it twice before letting go.
“I’d like to arrange a meeting with my accountant and other business associates for my free reading; can you ensure your availability when I have a date?”
“I make the rotas so yeah.”
Sookie fished the keys to the bar from her pocket and held the door open for Eric while casting her ability out to make sure there weren’t any surprises waiting for her. A habit she’d gotten into in the last few weeks. As the Vampire made to step outside the building she put her hand on his chest.
“Changed your mind about the physical side so soon?” Eric smirked.
“Shh!” The Vampire watched Sookie’s eyes dart from left to right. “Six humans, it’s an ambush for you … and me, fellowship scum going by what I can hear.”
Eric’s fangs ran out as he ran toward the group but he was caught out by two of them that threw a silver net from their position in a tree above him. The Vampire roared in anger as the net seared any exposed flesh and weakened him. His hands clawed at the burning wires as Whit and Danny descended on him with baseball bats. Sookie watched as they beat Eric while another two stood ready with stakes and the last two hollered encouragement from the tree. As quick as she could, she ran to the bar and got small knife they kept there for slicing lemons and limes. She made the mistake of not keeping tabs on the mob with her Telepathy, and when she got back to the door she was met with a fist to the stomach.
She doubled over as the breath went out of her and dropped the knife but instead of trying to stand back up she rolled to the ground and kicked upwards, catching her attacker on the chin with her heavy boots. He fell back and Sookie turned her head toward the lower half of his body. Noticing he had chosen to wear shorts, she simply lunged for his leg and sank her teeth in as hard as she could. He screamed in pain and the Telepath scrambled franticly for the weapon, her hurried movements making it skitter further away from her. Finally it was in her hand and she swung round catching the Fellowship goon on the arm. He half jumped, half fell on top of her, holding down her arm that held the knife and pulling back to punch her with the other. Using all of her strength, she lifted her legs and attempted a backwards roll, tipping the assailant on to the dirt and using his momentum to reverse their positions.
She held the knife to his throat and reached for a nearby rock with her free hand. His eyes widened in fear, they hadn’t accounted for the fact that the woman might be just as hard to kill as the Vampire. He squeezed his eyes closed as Sookie raised the rock and slammed it down on his skull, knocking him into unconsciousness and leaving five enemies to beat.
“No yer best plan ya fanny.”
Eric fought to get out of the silver net harder than ever when he saw that Sookie was being attacked, throwing his human attackers away from him with as much force as he could muster. Finally one of his legs was untangled; it would only be a few minutes until the rest of him was as well. And the Fellowship attackers knew it. They scrambled for their stakes in vain, unable to pin Eric down to send him to his final death. The Vampire saw Sookie heading for the group and snarled and thrashed to keep their attention on him.
Sookie ducked down and ran full tilt toward Whit, skidding across the dirt and slashing at his Achilles tendon with the knife. Whit fell hard, rolling on the ground in agony screaming. The Telepath grabbed at the bat he dropped and swung it at Danny, smashing his kneecap from her low position.
“Three little piggies.” She grinned holding the bat over her shoulder, ready to strike.
The Vampire threw the net away and positioned himself at the other side of the three remaining Fellowship thugs. They backed away from Sookie and Eric, letting their weapons fall to the ground.
“Oh ye like it bare knuckle eh? Fair enough.” Sookie dropped the bat and crouched down with her elbows tight to her body and her hands curled into fists. “Square go pal, whenever yer ready.”
Eric simply growled and flashed his fangs. He sniffed at the air, it was heavy with sweat and blood and violence. The scent of urine filled his nostrils as one of the assailants wet his pants in fear; Eric simply laughed at him and jerked in his direction. The man screamed and ran away, tripping over tree roots as he made his escape. Eric moved to where Sookie moved slowly from side to side, his back was to hers and he adopted his own fighting position. He could kill them both now, so easily, but playing with them was so much more fun.
“Two against two, but since my lady friend here has already dispatched three of you, how do you really think you’ll fare against us?”
Eric grin matched Sookie’s as the men tried to intimidate them, moving in a circle with the Telepath and the Vampire in the centre. They failed to comprehend that delaying their attack would only make things worse. The longer they took to strike, the stronger Eric was and the more time between attacks gave Sookie more time to get her breath and energy back. Sookie listened in on the men, both were thinking the same thing, both were waiting on the other to make a move.
“Fuck this fur a game o’ soldiers.”
Sookie rushed at one, pulling her leg back as he pulled back his fist to hit her. Eric grabbed at the other and held him in the air by the back of his neck. Sookie’s steel toe-cap boot buried itself between the man’s legs, his fist fell and his eye almost popped out of the sockets. Eric and the man he held both winced and instinctively placed their free hands over their crotches. Before her opponent could fall to the ground, Sookie grabbed at his hair and smashed his face against her knee. She pushed him away from her, panting as he curled in a ball at her feet.
Eric laughed and carried the last attacker to the truck parked in the trees, throwing him in the driver’s seat. “Stay there or die.”
The man whimpered and nodded and watched through the windscreen as the Vampire gathered up his four friends, where the escapee had gotten to he didn’t know or care, and dumped them in the bed before banging the side of his door.
“You might want to take them to a hospital.”
The man nodded and started the truck with shaking hands, peeling out of the parking lot and leaving a cloud of dust in his wake. Eric rushed to where Sookie was inspecting herself for injuries and grabbed her face in his hands.
“Scrappy little thing aren’t you?”
Sookie smiled then punched him in the face before yelping and holding her hand, she’d think twice before punching a Vampire again. Eric put his hand to his nose, bristling with anger and confusion.
“What was that for?”
“Ye could have taken them a’ oot but ye didnae! Nae bother pal, I’ll do a’ the hard work eh?”
Eric grinned at her. “To be honest watching you brawl is a major turn-on.”
“Oh aye?” Sookie stepped close to him, so close you couldn’t have slid a piece of paper between her chest and his.
“Aye!” Eric mocked Sookie’s accent, revelling in the red blush of anger that coloured her cheeks.
It was impossible to tell who was shocked more when Sookie grabbed Eric’s neck and pressed her mouth against his, but Eric recovered first and swept his tongue over Sookie’s bottom lip. She opened her mouth without reservation and moaned as the kiss deepened and they duelled for dominance. Determined not to waste the opportunity, Eric picked Sookie up and her legs automatically wrapped themselves around his waist.
She arched her back, grinding her heated sex into the hard bulge of Eric’s arousal. The Vampire broke the kiss and hissed in pleasure, carrying Sookie to the closest car and setting her on the hood. The Telepath grabbed at his long blond hair as his lips moved to her neck, nibbling and licking at the juncture of her shoulder.
“It’s been too fuckin’ long.” Sookie panted as she pulled Eric’s mouth back to hers.
A squeak erupted from Sookie’s lips as something vibrated against the top of her thigh. It reverberated through her shorts to her sensitive folds, making her shiver with excitement. When Eric pulled away to dig the phone from his pocket, she jumped from the car and kicked at the dirt screaming.
“Fuckin’ cunt hole bitch!”
“What crawled up Sookie’s ass and died?”
“Pam, not now. Why are you calling?”
“Hot Rain has appeared; he’s demanding restitution for Longshadow’s final death.”
Eric ended the call and stuffed his phone back in his pocket violently. “I am required at Fangtasia.”
Despite her anger and frustration, Sookie nodded and managed to squeak out a cordial ‘okay’ in response before walking over to lock up Merlotte’s and finally going home to rest. Eric opened the tie on the flight back to Shreveport, cursing Hot Rain and Longshadow with every mile he travelled as he felt Sookie pleasuring herself.