Dead Until Dark Chapter 4

HALF THE PATRONS of Merlotte's thought Bill had had a hand in the markings on the women's bodies. The other 50 percent thought that some of the vampires from bigger towns or cities had bitten Maudette and Dawn when they were out barhopping, and they deserved what they got if they wanted to go to bed with vampires. Some thought the girls had been strangled by a vampire, some thought they had just continued their promiscuous ways into disaster.

But everyone who came into Merlotte's was worried that some other woman would be killed, too. I couldn't count the times I was told to be careful, told to watch my friend Bill Compton, told to lock my doors and not let anyone in my house... . As if those were things I wouldn't do, normally.

Jason came in for both commiseration and suspicion as a man who'd ’’dated’’ both women. He came by the house one day and held forth for a whole hour, while Gran and I tried to encourage him to keep going with his work like an innocent man would. But for the first time in my memory, my handsome brother was really worried. I wasn't exactly glad he was in trouble, but I wasn't exactly sorry, either. I know that was small and petty of me.

I am not perfect.

I am so not-perfect that despite the deaths of two women I knew, I spent a substantial amount of time wondering what Bill meant about doing him proud. I had no idea what constituted appropriate dress for visiting a vampire bar. I wasn't about to dress in some kind of stupid costume, as I'd heard some bar visitors did.

I sure didn't know anyone to ask.

I wasn't tall enough or bony enough to dress in the sort of spandex outfit the vampire Diane had worn.

Finally I pulled a dress from the back of my closet, one I'd had little occasion to wear. It was a Nice Date dress, if you wanted the personal interest of whoever was your escort. It was cut square and low in the neck and it was sleeveless. It was tight and white. The fabric was thinly scattered with bright red flowers with long green stems. My tan glowed and my boobs showed. I wore red enamel earrings and red high-heeled screw-me shoes. I had a little red straw purse. I put on light makeup and wore my wavy hair loose down my back.

Gran's eyes opened wide when I came out of my room.

’’Honey, you look beautiful,’’ she said. ’’Aren't you going to be a little cold in that dress?’’

I grinned. ’’No, ma'am, I don't think so. It's pretty warm outside.’’

’’Wouldn't you like to wear a nice white sweater over that?’’

’’No, I don't think so.’’ I laughed. I had pushed the other vampires far enough back in my mind to where looking se*y was okay again. I was pretty excited about having a date, though I had kind of asked Bill myself and it was more of a fact-finding mission. That, too, I tried to forget, so I could just enjoy myself.

Sam called me to tell me my paycheck was ready. He asked if I'd come in and pick it up, which I usually did if I wasn't going to work the next day.

I drove to Merlotte's feeling a little anxious at walking in dressed up.

But when I came in the door, I got the tribute of a moment of stunned silence. Sam's back was to me, but Lafayette was looking through the hatch and Rene and JB were at the bar. Unfortunately, so was my brother, Jason, whose eyes opened wide when he turned to see what Rene was staring at.

’’You lookin'good, girl!’’ called Lafayette enthusiastically. ’’Where you get that dress?’’

’’Oh, I've had this old thing forever,’’ I said mockingly, and he laughed.

Sam turned to see what Lafayette was gawking at, and his eyes got wide, too.

’’God almighty,’’ he breathed. I walked over to ask for my check, feeling very self-conscious.

’’Come in the office, Sookie,’’ he said, and I followed him to his small cubicle by the storeroom. Rene gave me a half-hug on my way by him, and JB kissed my cheek.

Sam rummaged through the piles of paper on top of his desk, and finally came up with my check. He didn't hand it to me, though.

’’Are you going somewhere special?’’ Sam asked, almost unwillingly.

’’I have a date,’’ I said, trying to sound matter-of-fact.

’’You look great,’’ Sam said, and I saw him swallow. His eyes were hot.

’’Thank you. Um, Sam, can I have my check?’’

’’Sure.’’ He handed it to me, and I popped it in my purse.

’’Good-bye, then.’’

’’Good-bye.’’ But instead of indicating I should leave, Sam stepped over and smelled me. He put his face close to my neck and inhaled. His brilliant blue eyes closed briefly, as if to evaluate my odor. He exhaled gently, his breath hot on my bare skin.

I stepped out of the door and left the bar, puzzled and interested in Sam's behavior.

When I got home a strange car was parked in front of the house. It was a black Cadillac, and it shone like glass. Bill's. Where did they get the money to buy these cars? Shaking my head, I went up the steps to the porch and walked in. Bill turned to the door expectantly;he was sitting on the couch talking to Gran, who was perched on one arm of an old overstuffed chair.

When he saw me, I was sure I'd overdone it, and he was really angry. His face went quite still. His eyes flared. His fingers curved as if he were scooping something up with them.

’’Is this all right?’’ I asked anxiously. I felt the blood surge up into my cheeks.

’’Yes,’’ he said finally. But his pause had been long enough to anger my grandmother.

’’Anyone with a brain in his head has got to admit that Sookie is one of the prettiest girls around,’’ she said, her voice friendly on the surface but steel underneath.

’’Oh, yes,’’ he agreed, but there was a curious lack of inflection in his voice.

Well, screw him. I'd tried my best. I stiffened my back, and said, ’’Shall we go, then?’’

’’Yes,’’ he said again, and stood. ’’Good-bye, Mrs. Stackhouse. It was a pleasure seeing you again.’’

’’Well, you two have a good time,’’ she said, mollified. ’’Drive careful, Bill, and don't drink too much.’’

He raised an eyebrow. ’’No, ma'am.’’

Gran let that sail right on past.

Bill held my car door open as I got in, a carefully calculated series of maneuvers to keep as much of me as possible in the dress. He shut the door and got in on the driver's side. I wondered who had taught him to drive a car. Henry Ford, probably.

’’I'm sorry I'm not dressed correctly,’’ I said, looking straight ahead of me.

We'd been going slowly on the bumpy driveway through the woods. The car lurched to a halt.

’’Who said that?’’ Bill asked, his voice very gentle.

’’You looked at me as though I'd done something wrong,’’ I snapped.

’’I'm just doubting my ability to get you in and out without having to kill someone who wants you.’’

’’You're being sarcastic.’’ I still wouldn't look.

His hand gripped the back of my neck, forced me to turn to him.

’’Do I look like I am?’’ he asked.

His dark eyes were wide and unblinking.

’’Ah ... no,’’ I admitted.

’’Then accept what I say.’’

The ride to Shreveport was mostly silent, but not uncomfortably so. Bill played tapes most of the way. He was partial to Kenny G.

Fangtasia, the vampire bar, was located in a suburban shopping area of Shreveport, close to a Sam's and a Toys'R'Us. It was in a shopping strip, which was all closed down at this hour except for the bar. The name of the place was spelled out in jazzy red neon above the door, and the facade was painted steel gray, a red door providing color contrast. Whoever owned the place must have thought gray was less obvious than black because the interior was decorated in the same colors.

I was carded at the door by a vampire. Of course, she recognized Bill as one of her own kind and acknowledged him with a cool nod, but she scanned me intently. Chalky pale, as all Caucasian vampires are, she was eerily striking in her long black dress with its trailing sleeves. I wondered if the overdone ’’vampire’’ look was her own inclination, or if she'd just adopted it because the human patrons thought it appropriate.

’’I haven't been carded in years,’’ I said, fishing in my red purse for my driver's license. We were standing in a little boxy entrance hall.

’’I can no longer tell human ages, and we must be very careful we serve no minors. In any capacity,’’ she said with what was probably meant to be a genial smile. She cast a sideways look at Bill, her eyes flicking up and down him with an offensive interest. Offensive to me, at least.

’’I haven't seen you in a few months,’’ she said to him, her voice as cool and sweet as his could be.

’’I'm mainstreaming,’’ he explained, and she nodded.

’’WHAT WERE YOU telling her?’’ I whispered as we walked down the short hall and through the red double doors into the main room.

’’That I'm trying to live among humans.’’

I wanted to hear more, but then I got my first comprehensive look at Fangtasia's interior. Everything was in gray, black, and red. The walls were lined with framed pictures of every movie vampire who had shown fangs on the silver screen, from Bela Lugosi to George Hamilton to Gary Old-man, from famous to obscure. The lighting was dim, of course, nothing unusual about that;what was unusual was the clientele. And the posted signs.

The bar was full. The human clients were divided among vampire groupies and tourists. The groupies (fang-bangers, they were called) were dressed in their best finery. It ranged from the traditional capes and tuxes for the men to many Morticia Adams ripoffs among the females. The clothes ranged from reproductions of those worn by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire to some modern outfits that I thought were influenced by The Hunger. Some of the fang-bangers were wearing false fangs, some had painted trickles of blood from the corners of their mouths or puncture marks on their necks. They were extraordinary, and extraordinarily pathetic.

The tourists looked like tourists anywhere, maybe more adventurous than most. But to enter into the spirit of the bar, they were nearly all dressed in black like the fang-bangers. Maybe it was part of a tour package? ’’Bring some black for your exciting visit to a real vampire bar! Follow the rules, and you'll be fine, catching a glimpse of this exotic underworld.’’

Strewn among this human assortment, like real jewels in a bin of rhinestones, were the vampires, perhaps fifteen of them. They mostly favored dark clothes, too.

I stood in the middle of the floor, looking around me with interest and amazement and some distaste, and Bill whispered, ’’You look like a white candle in a coal mine.’’

I laughed, and we strolled through the scattered tables to the bar. It was the only bar I'd ever seen that had a case of warmed bottled blood on display. Bill, naturally, ordered one, and I took a deep breath and ordered a gin and tonic. The bartender smiled at me, showing me that his fangs had shot out a little at the pleasure of serving me. I tried to smile back and look modest at the same time. He was an American Indian, with long coal black straight hair and a craggy nose, a straight line of a mouth, and a whippy build.

’’How's it going, Bill?’’ the bartender asked. ’’Long time, no see. This your meal for the night?’’ He nodded toward me as he put our drinks on the bar before us.

’’This is my friend Sookie. She has some questions to ask.’’

’’Anything, beautiful woman,’’ said the bartender, smiling once again. I liked him better when his mouth was the straight line.

’’Have you seen this woman, or this one, in the bar?’’ I asked, drawing the newspaper photos of Maudette and Dawn from my purse. ’’Or this man?’’ With a jolt of misgiving, I pulled out my brother's picture.

’’Yes to the women, no to the man, though he looks delicious,’’ said the bartender, smiling at me again. ’’Your brother, perhaps?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’What possibilities,’’ he whispered.

It was lucky I'd had extensive practice in face control. ’’Do you remember who the women hung around with?’’

’’That's something I wouldn't know,’’ he replied quickly, his face closing down. ’’That's something we don't notice, here. You won't, either.’’

’’Thank you,’’ I said politely, realizing I'd broken a bar rule. It was dangerous to ask who left with whom, evidently. ’’I appreciate your taking the time.’’

He looked at me consideringly. ’’That one,’’ he said, poking a finger at Dawn's picture, ’’she wanted to die.’’

’’How do you know?’’

’’Everyone who comes here does, to one extent or another,’’ he said so matter-of-factly I could tell he took that for granted. ’’That is what we are. Death.’’

I shuddered. Bill's hand on my arm drew me away to a just-vacated booth. Underscoring the Indian's pronouncement, at regular intervals wall placards proclaimed, ’’No biting on premises.’’ ’’No lingering in the parking lot.’’ ’’Conduct your personal business elsewhere.’’ ’’Your patronage is appreciated. Proceed at your own risk.’’

Bill took the top off the bottle with one finger and took a sip. I tried not to look, failed. Of course he saw my face, and he shook his head.

’’This is the reality, Sookie,’’ he said. ’’I need it to live.’’

There were red stains between his teeth.

’’Of course,’’ I said, trying to match the matter-of-fact tone of the bartender. I took a deep breath. ’’Do you suppose I want to die, since I came here with you?’’

’’I think you want to find out why other people are dying,’’ he said. But I wasn't sure that was what he really believed.

I didn't think Bill had yet realized that his personal position was precarious. I sipped my drink, felt the blossoming warmth of the gin spread through me.

A fang-banger approached the booth. I was half-hidden by Bill, but still, they'd all seen me enter with him. She was frizzy-haired and boney, with glasses that she stuffed in a purse as she walked over. She bent across the table to get her mouth about two inches from Bill.

’’Hi, dangerous,’’ she said in what she hoped was a seductive voice. She tapped Bill's bottled blood with a fingernail painted scarlet. ’’I have the real stuff.’’ She stroked her neck to make sure he got the point.

I took a deep breath to control my temper. I had invited Bill to this place;he hadn't invited me. I could not comment on what he chose to do here, though I had a surprisingly vivid mental image of leaving a slap mark on this hussy's pale, freckled cheek. I held absolutely still so I wouldn't give Bill any cues about what I wanted.

’’I have a companion,’’ Bill said gently.

’’She doesn't have any puncture marks on her neck,’’ the girl observed, acknowledging my presence with a contemptuous look. She might as well have said ’’Chicken!’’ and flapped her arms like wings. I wondered if steam was visibly coming out of my ears.

’’I have a companion,’’ Bill said again, his voice not so gentle this time.

’’You don't know what you're missing,’’ she said, her big pale eyes flashing with offense.

’’Yes, I do,’’ he said.

She recoiled as if I'd actually done the slapping, and stomped off to her table.

To my disgust, she was only the first of four. These people, men and women, wanted to be intimate with a vampire, and they weren't shy about it.

Bill handled all of them with calm aplomb.

’’You're not talking,’’ he said, after a man of forty had left, his eyes actually tearing up at Bill's rejection.

’’There's nothing for me to say,’’ I replied, with great self-control.

’’You could have sent them on their way. Do you want me to leave you? Is there someone else here who catches your fancy? Long Shadow, there at the bar, would love to spend time with you, I can tell.’’

’’Oh, for God's sake, no!’’ I wouldn't have felt safe with any of the other vampires in the bar, would have been terrified they were like Liam or Diane. Bill had turned his dark eyes to me and seemed to be waiting for me to say something else. ’’I do have to ask them if they've seen Dawn and Maudette in here, though.’’

’’Do you want me with you?’’

’’Please,’’ I said, and sounded more frightened than I'd wanted to. I'd meant to ask like it would be a casual pleasure to have his company.

’’The vampire over there is handsome;he has scanned you twice,’’ he said. I almost wondered if he was doing a little tongue biting himself.

’’You're teasing me,’’ I said uncertainly after a moment.

The vampire he'd indicated was handsome, in fact, radiant;blond and blue-eyed, tall and broad shouldered. He was wearing boots, jeans, and a vest. Period. Kind of like the guys on the cover of romance books. He scared me to death.

’’His name is Eric,’’ said Bill.

’’How old is he?’’

’’Very. He's the oldest thing in this bar.’’

’’Is he mean?’’

’’We're all mean, Sookie. We're all very strong and very violent.’’

’’Not you,’’ I said. I saw his face close in on itself. ’’You want to live mainstream. You're not gonna do antisocial stuff.’’

’’Just when I think you're too naive to walk around alone, you say something shrewd,’’ he said, with a short laugh. ’’All right, we'll go talk to Eric.’’

Eric, who, it was true, had glanced my way once or twice, was sitting with a female vampire who was just as lovely as he. They'd already repelled several advances by humans. In fact, one lovelorn young man had already crawled across the floor and kissed the female's boot. She'd stared down at him and kicked him in the shoulder. You could tell it had been an effort for her not to kick him in the face. Tourists flinched, and a couple got up and left hurriedly, but the fang-bangers seemed to take this scene for granted.

At our approach, Eric looked up and scowled until he realized who the intruders were.

’’Bill,’’ he said, nodding. Vampires didn't seem to shake hands.

Instead of walking right up to the table, Bill stood a careful distance away, and since he was gripping my arm above my elbow, I had to stop, too. This seemed to be the courteous distance with this set.

’’Who's your friend?’’ asked the female. Though Eric had a slight accent, this woman talked pure American, and her round face and sweet features would have done credit to a milkmaid. She smiled, and her fangs ran out, kind of ruining the image.

’’Hi, I'm Sookie Stackhouse,’’ I said politely.

’’Aren't you sweet,’’ Eric observed, and I hoped he was thinking of my character.

’’Not especially,’’ I said.

Eric stared at me in surprise for a moment. Then he laughed, and the female did, too.

’’Sookie, this is Pam and I am Eric,’’ the blond vampire said. Bill and Pam gave each other the vampire nod.

There was a pause. I would have spoken, but Bill squeezed my arm.

’’My friend Sookie would like to ask a couple of questions,’’ Bill said.

The seated vampires exchanged bored glances.

Pam said, ’’Like how long are our fangs, and what kind of coffin do we sleep in?’’ Her voice was laced with contempt, and you could tell those were tourist questions that she hated.

’’No, ma'am,’’ I said. I hoped Bill wouldn't pinch my arm off. I thought I was being calm and courteous.

She stared at me with amazement.

What the hell was so startling? I was getting a little tired of this. Before Bill could give me any more painful hints, I opened my purse and took out the pictures. ’’I'd like to know if you've seen either of these women in this bar.’’ I wasn't getting Jason's picture out in front of this female. It would've been like putting a bowl of milk in front of a cat.

They looked at the pictures. Bill's face was blank. Eric looked up. ’’I have been with this one,’’ he said coolly, tapping Dawn's picture. ’’She liked pain.’’

Pam was surprised Eric had answered me, I could tell by her eyebrows. She seemed somehow obligated to follow his example. ’’I have seen both of them. I have never been with them. This one,’’ she flicked her finger at Maudette's picture, ’’was a pathetic creature.’’

’’Thank you very much, that's all of your time I need to take,’’ I said, and tried to turn to leave. But Bill still held my arm imprisoned.

’’Bill, are you quite attached to your friend?’’ Eric asked.

It took a second for the meaning to sink in. Eric the Hunk was asking if I could be borrowed.

’’She is mine,’’ Bill said, but he wasn't roaring it as he had to the nasty vampires from Monroe. Nonetheless, he sounded pretty darn firm.

Eric inclined his golden head, but he gave me the once-over again. At least he started with my face.

Bill seemed to relax. He bowed to Eric, somehow including Pam in the gesture, backed away for two steps, finally permitting me to turn my back to the couple.

’’Gee whiz, what was that about?’’ I asked in a furious whisper. I'd have a big bruise the next day.

’’They're older than I am by centuries,’’ Bill said, looking very vampirey.

’’Is that the pecking order? By age?’’

’’Pecking order,’’ Bill said thoughtfully. ’’That's not a bad way to put it.’’ He almost laughed. I could tell by the way his lip twitched.

’’If you had been interested, I would have been obliged to let you go with Eric,’’ he said, after we'd resumed our seats and had a belt from our drinks.

’’No,’’ I said sharply.

’’Why didn't you say anything when the fang-bangers came to our table trying to seduce me away from you?’’

We weren't operating on the same wave level. Maybe social nuances weren't something vampires cared about. I was going to have to explain something that couldn't really bear much explaining.

I made a very unladylike sound out of sheer exasperation.

’’Okay,’’ I said sharply. ’’Listen up, Bill! When you came to my house, I had to invite you. When you came here with me, I had to invite you. You haven't asked me out. Lurking in my driveway doesn't count, and asking me to stop by your house and leave a list of contractors doesn't count. So it's always been me asking you. How can I tell you that you have to stay with me, if you want to go? If those girls will let you suck their blood - or that guy, for that matter - then I don't feel I have a right to stand in your way!’’

’’Eric is much better looking than I am,’’ Bill said. ’’He is more powerful, and I understand se* with him is unforgettable. He is so old he only needs to take a sip to maintain his strength. He almost never kills any more. So, as vampires go, he's a good guy. You could still go with him. He is still looking at you. He would try his glamor on you if you were not with me.’’

’’I don't want to go with Eric,’’ I said stubbornly.

’’I don't want to go with any of the fang-bangers,’’ he said.

We sat in silence for a minute or two.

’’So we're all right,’’ I said obscurely.

’’Yes.’’

We took a few moments more, thinking this over.

’’Want another drink?’’ he asked.

’’Yes, unless you need to get back.’’

’’No, this is fine.’’

He went to the bar. Eric's friend Pam left, and Eric appeared to be counting my eyelashes. I tried to keep my gaze on my hands, to indicate modesty. I felt power tweaks kind of flow over me and had an uneasy feeling Eric was trying to influence me. I risked a quick peek, and sure enough he was looking at me expectantly. Was I supposed to pull off my dress? Bark like a dog? Kick Bill in the shins? Shit.

Bill came back with our drinks.

’’He's gonna know I'm not normal,’’ I said grimly. Bill didn't seem to need an explanation.

’’He's breaking the rules just attempting to glamorize you after I've told him you're mine,’’ Bill said. He sounded pretty pissed off. His voice didn't get hotter and hotter like mine would have, but colder and colder.

’’You seem to be telling everyone that,’’ I muttered. Without doing anything about it, I added silently.

’’It's vampire tradition,’’ Bill explained again. ’’If I pronounce you mine, no one else can try to feed on you.’’

’’Feed on me, that's a delightful phrase,’’ I said sharply, and Bill actually had an expression of exasperation for all of two seconds.

’’I'm protecting you,’’ he said, his voice not quite as neutral as usual.

’’Had it occurred to you that I - ’’

And I stopped short. I closed my eyes. I counted to ten.

When I ventured a look at Bill, his eyes were fixed on my face, unblinking. I could practically hear the gears mesh.

’’You - don't need protection?’’ he guessed softly. ’’You are protecting - me?’’

I didn't say anything. I can do that.

But he took the back of my skull in his hand. He turned my head to him as though I were a puppet. (This was getting to be an annoying habit of his.) He looked so hard into my eyes that I thought I had tunnels burned into my brain.

I pursed my lips and blew into his face. ’’Boo,’’ I said. I was very uncomfortable. I glanced at the people in the bar, letting my guard down, listening.

’’Boring,’’ I told him. ’’These people are boring.’’

’’Are they, Sookie? What are they thinking?’’ It was a relief to hear his voice, no matter that his voice was a little odd.

’’se*, se*, se*.’’ And that was true. Every single person in that bar had se* on the brain. Even the tourists, who mostly weren't thinking about having se* with the vampires themselves, but were thinking about the fang-bangers having se* with the vampires.

’’What are you thinking about, Sookie?’’

’’Not se*,’’ I answered promptly and truthfully. I'd just gotten an unpleasant shock.

’’Is that so?’’

’’I was thinking about the chances of us getting out of here without any trouble.’’

’’Why were you thinking about that?’’

’’Because one of the tourists is a cop in disguise, and he just went to the bathroom, and he knows that a vampire is in there, sucking on the neck of a fang-banger. He's already called the police on his little radio.’’

’’Out,’’ he said smoothly, and we were out of the booth swiftly and moving for the door. Pam had vanished, but as we passed Eric's table, Bill gave him some sign. Just as smoothly, Eric eased from his seat and rose to his magnificent height, his stride so much longer than ours that he passed out the door first, taking the arm of the bouncer and propelling her outside with us.

As we were about to go out the door, I remembered the bartender, Long Shadow, had answered my questions willingly, so I turned and jabbed my finger in the direction of the door, unmistakably telling him to leave. He looked as alarmed as a vampire can look, and as Bill yanked me through the double doors, he was throwing down his towel.

Outside, Eric was waiting outside by his car - a Corvette, naturally.

’’There's going to be a raid,’’ Bill said.

’’How do you know?’’

Bill stuck on that one.

’’Me,’’ I said, getting him off the hook.

Eric's wide blue eyes shone even in the gloom of the parking lot. I was going to have to explain.

’’I read a policeman's mind,’’ I muttered. I snuck a look to see how Eric was taking this, and he was staring at me the same way the Monroe vampires had. Thoughtful. Hungry.

’’That's interesting,’’ he said. ’’I had a psychic once. It was incredible.’’

’’Did the psychic think so?’’ My voice was tarter than I'd meant it to be.

I could hear Bill's indrawn breath.

Eric laughed. ’’For a while,’’ he answered ambiguously.

We heard sirens in the distance, and without further words Eric and the bouncer slid into his car and were gone into the night, the car seeming quieter than others'cars, somehow. Bill and I buckled up hastily, and we were leaving the parking lot by one exit just as the police were coming in by another. They had their vampire van with them, a special prisoner transport with silver bars. It was driven by two cops who were of the fanged persuasion, and they sprang out of their van and reached the club door with a speed that rendered them just blurs on my human vision.

We had driven a few blocks when suddenly Bill pulled into the parking lot of yet another darkened strip mall.

’’What - ?’’ I began, but got no further. Bill had unclipped my seat belt, moved the seat back, and grabbed me before I had finished my sentence. Frightened that he was angry, I pushed against him at first, but I might as well have been heaving against a tree. Then his mouth located mine, and I knew what he was.

Oh, boy, could he kiss. We might have problems communicating on some levels, but this wasn't one of them. We had a great time for maybe five minutes. I felt all the right things moving through my body in waves. Despite the awkwardness of being in the front seat of a car, I managed to be comfortable, mostly because he was so strong and considerate. I nipped his skin with my teeth. He made a sound like a growl.

’’Sookie!’’ His voice was ragged.

I moved away from him, maybe half an inch.

’’If you do that any more I'll have you whether you want to be had or not,’’ he said, and I could tell he meant it.

’’You don't want to,’’ I said finally, trying not to make it a question.

’’Oh, yes, I want to,’’ and he grabbed my hand and showed me.

Suddenly, there was a bright rotating light beside us.

’’The police,’’ I said. I could see a figure get out of the patrol car and start toward Bill's window. ’’Don't let him know you're a vampire, Bill,’’ I said hastily, fearing fallout from the Fangtasia raid. Though most police forces loved having vampires join them on the job, there was a lot of prejudice against vampires on the street, especially as part of a mixed couple.

The policeman's heavy hand rapped on the window.

Bill turned on the motor, hit the button that lowered the window. But he was silent, and I realized his fangs had not retracted. If he opened his mouth, it would be really obvious he was a vampire.

’’Hello, officer,’’ I said.

’’Good evening,’’ the man said, politely enough. He bent to look in the window. ’’You two know all the shops here are closed, right?’’

’’Yes, sir.’’

’’Now, I can tell you been messing around a little, and I got nothing against that, but you two need to go home and do this kind of thing.’’

’’We will.’’ I nodded eagerly, and Bill managed a stiff inclination of his head.

’’We're raiding a bar a few blocks back,’’ the patrolman said casually. I could see only a little of his face, but he seemed burly and middle-aged. ’’You two coming from there, by any chance?’’

’’No,’’ I said.

’’Vampire bar,’’ the cop remarked.

’’Nope. Not us.’’

’’Let me just shine this light on your neck, miss, if you don't mind.’’

’’Not at all.’’

And by golly, he shone that old flashlight on my neck and then on Bill's.

’’Okay, just checking. You two move on now.’’

’’Yes, we will.’’

Bill's nod was even more curt. While the patrolman waited, I slid back over to my side and clipped my seat belt, and Bill put the car in gear and backed up.

Bill was just infuriated. All the way home he kept a sullen (I guess) silence, whereas I was inclined to view the whole thing as funny.

I was cheerful at finding Bill wasn't indifferent to my personal attractions, such as they were. I began to hope that someday he would want to kiss me again, maybe longer and harder, and maybe even - we could go further? I was trying not to get my hopes up. Actually, there was a thing or two that Bill didn't know about me, that no one knew, and I was very careful to try to keep my expectations modest.

When he got me back to Gran's, he came around and opened my door, which made me raise my eyebrows;but I am not one to stop a courteous act. I assumed Bill did realize I had functioning arms and the mental ability to figure out the door-opening mechanism. When I stepped out, he backed up.

I was hurt. He didn't want to kiss me again;he was regretting our earlier episode. Probably pining after that damn Pam. Or maybe even Long Shadow. I was beginning to see that the ability to have se* for several centuries leaves room for lots of experimentation. Would a telepath be so bad to add to his list?

I kind of hunched my shoulders together and wrapped my arms across my chest.

’’Are you cold?’’ Bill asked instantly, putting his arm around me. But it was the physical equivalent of a coat, he seemed to be trying to stay as far away from me as the arm made possible.

’’I am sorry I have pestered you. I won't ask you for any more,’’ I said, keeping my voice even. Even as I spoke I realized that Gran hadn't set up a date for Bill to speak to the Descendants, but she and Bill would just have to work that out.

He stood still. Finally he said, ’’You - are - incredibly - naive.’’ And he didn't even add that codicil about shrewdness, like he had earlier.

’’Well,’’ I said blankly. ’’I am?’’

’’Or maybe one of God's fools,’’ he said, and that sounded a lot less pleasant, like Quasimodo or something.

’’I guess,’’ I said tartly, ’’you'll just have to find out.’’

’’It had better be me that finds out,’’ he said darkly, which I didn't understand at all. He walked me up to the door, and I was sure hoping for another kiss, but he gave me a little peck on the forehead. ’’Good night, Sookie,’’ he whispered.

I rested my cheek against his for a moment. ’’Thanks for taking me,’’ I said, and moved away quickly before he thought I was asking for something else. ’’I'm not calling you again.’’ And before I could lose my determination, I slipped into the dark house and shut the door in Bill's face.


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