~ Chapter 1 – The Dead Will Rise ~
Fangtasia Vampire Bar – Shreveport, Louisiana
“Well, this was a brilliant idea,” Grace muttered to the click of the truck alarm, not the least bit surprised the vampire sheriff of Area Five would force a human to walk to him as she trudged across the employee lot where the very dead voice had ordered her to park.
In the two decades since she’d left Louisiana, the stupidest thing she’d done was take a sixty-foot body drop waterslide wearing a bikini she didn’t have on when she hit the bottom. Admittedly, there were those few dozen times she got busted climbing out of the second story window of the beach house, but still. The sun-kissed life of an island architect didn’t compare to staring down the back door of a vampire bar with five thousand dollars stuffed in her blue lace bra.
“Eric Northman does not turn people for a fee,” the telephone voice scolded in a dry as the desert drawl. No, but it didn’t take long to find out the 1000-year-old vampire would gladly answer questions if the price was right. Like good southerners always said: Money talks and bullshit walks. The problem was, their appointment was ten minutes ago and she was still standing in a sea of dirty gravel staring at the back of concrete block building painted with giant bottles of fake blood. No, she was not a happy human.
Actually, scratch that. Grace wasn’t entirely human. She didn’t know what she was outside of sweating. Sweating and scratching, clawing at the scar on her hand that mysteriously sprang to life the second she’d returned to the Bon Temps swamp where she’d been born. Late September in Louisiana was pure steamy, and today had been no different, nearly one hundred degrees at noon. Now it was straight up midnight, and it was still eighty-five humid, miserable degrees. Thinking a black tank top would be cool and comfortable, Grace was finding it to be neither as she hopped up the shallow steps. She looked back and shook her head. “Typical male, even if he is dead.” And the proof was shining right back at her.
Apparently, punctuality was no longer a priority once warm, red and breathing became your one and only food group. Cars were. And if the flaming red Corvette preening under a pole light didn’t scream “Fantasy come to life”, BLDSKR stamped across the back tag most definitely did. It obviously belonged to Eric. That giant blond Viking had stared at her from the front of the brochure like he was the source of all salvation – six and a half feet of leather wrapped muscle smoldering on a fur and bone throne. A vicious looking little blonde stood guard at one shoulder, two vinyl clad humans paying homage at his feet. Grace just looked up at the neon Fangtasia sign and cussed.
The giant red lips proudly opened and closed, sharp white fangs glistening against the lick of a hot pink tongue. For most humans, it had been Sci-Fi come to life the night the living dead appeared on national television, demanding their rightful place alongside humans as they announced their existence to the world – but things had definitely changed in the years since the Japanese created “True Blood”, a synthetic bottled blood substitute. Vampires still couldn’t stand the sunlight, but even on a Thursday in late September, the premier vampire bar of Louisiana was packed. People came and went at a rapid pace. Some staggered or ambled out while others wandered in, pausing to drag down the hem of a dress, adjust lipstick, or chat with friends as they made their way to the entrance.
She’d rolled in like the South Carolina woman she was: with AC/DC screaming through the speakers of her four-wheel drive truck and a Southern Comfort decal glittering across the windshield. Flip flops and cutoffs worked just as well in Shreveport as they did at the Seafood Shack on the end of the pier, and a few hours watching drunken tourists make idiots of themselves was exactly what she needed tonight. Still, Grace didn’t argue about not going through the front. The rune burned across the palm of her hand hid the fact she was part fey. Grace had no idea if it did anything else – and her black Escalade was standing on the stoop of Louisiana’s epicenter of “else” – The Bar with Bite – a supernatural Mecca with vampires, werewolves, and probably even a demon or two kicked back inside doing taste tests on anything that wanted one.
Grace sure as hell did not want one. If her buddy at Carolina Customs had been with her, he’d have rung her stubborn little neck. Heck, even her own mind was calling her ten kinds of idiot for giving up two decades of peace when she faced off against the rusted up “Employees Only” sign dangling from one screw. The information on the other side of that metal slab might well turn out to be a boarded up door to the pits of hell, but there was no more ignoring the two sets of wings tattooed across her forearm. Eric Northman might be a blood-sucking vamp, but he was also the oldest thing that talked in at least three states. She’d gladly pay him for a name or number. It might be after she snuck back to her truck for another pack of cigarettes and that twelve pack of Corona already on ice in the cooler, but she would find her grandmother’s family . . . Only Grace wasn’t the only one who wanted something at Fangtasia tonight.
On the other side of the concrete block wall, Sookie Stackhouse’s hand slid down inch by inch, twisting just the way Eric liked it. Her fingers slipped up the smooth shaft. It was slick and damp. She flicked her thumb over the opening and a drop of moisture trickled across her skin. So cool, so inviting. It felt like heaven and she licked her lips, imagining what it would be like to replace her fingers with her tongue. To lick every single glistening bead of . . .
Holy Moses on a moped! Sookie slapped the beer on the table, trying to ignore the crimson flying across her cheeks. What the hell was wrong with her? She was standing in the back corner of Fangtasia giving a Heineken a hand job!
“You may bring me another,” came a voice like liquid sin. “That one seems rather . . . special to you.”
His raven eyebrows slanted in amusement, and Sookie knew she never should’ve agreed to waitress at Fangtasia as a favor for Pam. Eight years working as a Bon Temp’s barmaid, and she’d given up her one night off from Merlotte’s to make an idiot of herself? Sookie wanted to bolt for the bathroom and die of embarrassment. Instead, a pair of molten mercury eyes shackled her in place, a lingering appraisal so long and hot her panties went wet.
“Mmmmm, I believe you remember me, little one,” he whispered as he took her right off of the air, inhaling with such pleasure it dragged a desperate little moan from her throat. “You cannot wait to give me what I want.”
Just the thought of it made her drool. That deep, exotic voice caressed her as surely as a touch, sliding up the inside of her thigh like the tongue of a great big cat. Sookie’s body arched to the touch of a hundred unseen hands slipping across her skin until her head tilted back to maintain eye contact, though she wasn’t even aware the man had stood up.
“Are—are you leaving?”
She grabbed his arm before he could walk away, the stammering protest not spoken aloud, though he answered it just the same. “Mailëa desires me to stay?” Tucking a stray curl behind her ear, he trailed his fingers down the deep V of her t-shirt, stroking a thumb across her pulse with a possessiveness that would’ve sent Eric Northman into a furor. “Say it,” he dared. “Say yes, you will give me what I want.”
“Yes,” was instantly sliding from her mouth, then everything else disappeared. His shirt melted to dust. Black hair calling to mind all manner of sins when she shoved her hands in deep. It fell to his waist like an endless stretch of midnight, bronze skin welcoming her touch with sparks of brilliant blue fire as she traced the swath of symbols carved across his chest. The pounding music from the band faded to a soft thrum bleeding through the thick black leather of the booth. Cigarette smoke and sweat gone to the exotic spices wafting from hard, sleek skin. He was just so damn beautiful. So perfect. Like a dark, conquering god.
“Prince,” came the voice that spoke to some secret part of her soul. “And very soon, your king.” His teeth slid down the curve of her neck. “Will you like that, little Sookie Stackhouse? Enjoy calling me master?”
One blink of those startling silver eyes, and she’d never wanted to do anything more. She shivered. Trembled. Could literally feel him sliding into her soul. Some thin shred of sanity screamed for it to stop, but there was no resisting the hot thrust of his mind. No denying the kiss he pressed to her forehead. She was staring into space when Pam tapped her on the shoulder. “You here to cover for the worthless bloodbags who didn’t show up for work, or daydream about my boss?”
Sookie jumped like she’d been doused in ice water. “What?”
The straightest, palest blonde hair you’d ever seen sheeted over the vampire’s shoulders when she jerked her head toward the sweaty beer bottle Sookie was somehow clutching again. “Did the empty table take up drinking?”
Pam’s smooth, lazy drawl was as dry as it always was, but Sookie’s hand landed on her hip. “Pam, that’s not funny! You’re just jealous because that man . . .” Pink climbed her cheeks as she glanced around, confused. “Where’d he go? Did he leave? The man with the gorgeous, dark hair.”
“Gorgeous?” Now the ferocious little vamp’s arms were crossed over her perfect pink tweed jacket. Fangtasia featured three bars, and every one was packed – tourists in the front, anything non-human in the center, fangbangers and donors praying to be turned begging at the back. The dance floor was its typical squirming sea of leather, latex and purposefully pale skin, but no way did a man with gorgeous, dark hair slip past her. Matter of fact, no one had gone near that corner all night. Now, the group of boys from Barksdale Air Force Base was staring.
“Everything ok, my lover?” Eric asked when he suddenly appeared at her side.
The beer hit the floor and spilled. No, not ok. Not ok at all. This was an OSM of monumental proportions – an “Oh, Shit Moment!” – and one Sookie had been trapped in for the last three days. Tolerating strong mental images and hearing other people’s thoughts was a daily inconvenience to a telepath, but this was different. A force ripped through her mind she couldn’t stop. She paled to white, but Eric already had her safe in his arms, dangerously tender as he held her steady against the wall.
“You know, sex is the best cure for that damned headache you’ve been fighting,” came his tempting murmur in her ear.
“Eric, we’re not going to your office,” she attempted to argue, unable to stop herself from enjoying the wall of muscle he called a chest as he effortlessly plucked her from the floor. “You know I have to help Pam. Three waitresses didn’t come in!”
“She’ll hire more tomorrow. You belong to me,” he reminded hotly in her ear.
And with that long blond hair falling all around his shoulders, Eric was hot when his mouth found the curve of a shoulder. His tongue slipped across her skin – but as typical with the little vixen, Sookie didn’t give in. Gathering his face in her hands, she tossed back her ponytail, proving she was more than adept at getting what she wanted when she offered up her neck with such a soft, suggestive smile it made him admire the seamstresses at Levi Strauss, because it was a miracle he didn’t bust the crotch of his tight black jeans right there.
Jerking a thumb over a fang, Eric spilled tiny drops of blood onto wood floors painted black as he spread the red that tied them across her lips. People stopped to stare, but he didn’t care. Eric didn’t just own the bar. He dominated it. Dared them to watch as she sucked him in and he sank his fangs in deep. There were plenty of humans willing to be with vampires – “Fangbangers” as they were affectionately called. And there were also plenty of “donors” – humans more than willing to let vampires feed on them. But what lay between he and Sookie was far more than the tie of their blood. Sookie was so deliciously and irresistibly alive as their hearts touched pulse by pulse. The one he’d waited ten centuries to meet. The one he intended to claim as his life mate – but the instant her blood hit his tongue, Eric snapped in his fangs and stepped back.
Heat stabbed through him. Foul. Tainted. Eric tasted it in his mouth. Smelled it on her skin. “There was a man.” A statement, not a question. “Tell me!” he demanded.
“I-I don’t know,” she said as she fought to catch a memory intentionally fading away. “Like you said, I’ve had this headache. Now, I think I’m getting the hives. Maybe I touched that stupid poison ivy when I cut the grass. . .”
Sookie scratched at her forehead, then froze; blue eyes brimming with fear as the projector in her mind began to flip at blinding speed. She knew right that second there had been a man. A man forcing her to give him what he wanted. She nearly gagged when he slid through Eric’s Corvette to lick her scent from the leather. He was on the hunt. Desperate. Determined. Prowling through her every telepathic connection mind by mind by mind . . . and he’d come for that girl in front of the big, black truck parked in the gravel.
“Oh, my God, Eric. He’s in the employee lot. He’s going to get her!”
“The girl!” Sookie’s voice caught, hands fisted in his shirt. “She’s outside. Right by Logan’s truck!”
Eric frowned at Pam. The vampires had waded through enough problems with the law enforcement community of Louisiana, and he was in no mood for more when he said, “Don’t tell me tourists are in the employee lot taking pictures on my damn car again.”
The petite little vamp’s eyes snapped to the hall. “Your appointment,” she warned him under her breath. “I told her to park around back.”
It took a split second to sink in, then Eric had shoved Sookie at Pam and “shadowed” down the private hall leading past his office, moving faster than the mortal eye could follow. Even the remotest idea that a girl was being attacked in his own parking lot enraged him. One that was bringing money to meet him? About five thousand times more than that. Only he exploded through the employee exit and walked into a whole new world.
There was no man with long, dark hair, but a six foot privacy fence separating the employee parking from the patrons around front had never seemed like more of a brilliant idea than when he caught sight of the shadows slithering over everything in sight. The smell of magic was stifling. The moon buried in a sea of blue and purple clouds as he paused beside his gorgeous new red corvette, resting a hand on the freshly waxed hood as he listened intently. Just as a frantic Sookie insisted, a black Escalade stood behind the bar, though the unique decals showed it did not belong to his enforcer, Logan. The gentle scents of sun and sand and tropical tangerines floated through the crack of a window – then gravel crunched and he finally caught sight of its owner.
The girl looked to be about the same age as Sookie, petite and dressed like she’d just come off a beach with dark, sun kissed skin and a wild crop of raven waves dancing around her head. She was steadily edging backwards toward the truck, and he quickly saw why. Not far from his Corvette, a flaming red head who must’ve been skull-shaved ten minutes before he was turned stalked her like a rabid dog. Eric recognized the vampire instantly – Caleb Sorrano, a fledging turned only some six weeks earlier.
“Stop!” he yelled, nearly snatching Sookie off her feet when she busted out the employee door and a wicked spill of laughter came roaring from the trees. His girlfriend might be half his size, but she could fight like a dervish, and she went crazy, kicking and punching and generally making it as difficult as possible to hold her back. Eric didn’t regret it. Not when a dark spot on the rotted brick wall snapped together like giant fingers of a night brought to life, grabbed hold of the young vampire and squeezed.
And hell yeah, Sookie freaked out. Worse than she was already.
“Oh, shit! OH, SHIT!” Sookie couldn’t seem to process anything more creative than that, but she was still furious Eric was holding her back as she begged, “We have to help her! We have to help her!”
Only Eric had no idea how. The sky exploded with sapphire lightning. The first drop of rain ripe with the stink of swamp smacked to the ground, then blue fairy fire burst out of Caleb’s nose and slithered into his eyes, and he threw himself on Grace faster than either of them could follow.
“Scream,” he growled so close his fangs drew blood from the curve of her ear. “My new Master wants to hear.”
Grace would’ve cut her own throat before giving him the satisfaction. Eric was still scrambling for a safe way to reach her, hoping Pam found Logan, and they could stop Caleb by coming from around front. Sookie was blessing him out with every breath, struggling against his grasp – but Grace wasn’t going down without one hell of a fight.
Caleb clamped a hand around her throat, and she planted a fist in his face with a crack that echoed off Fangtasia’s back wall, twenty years of nightmares feeding a balls-to-the-wall berserker rage as she ripped out two eyebrow rings and sank her teeth in his chin. The vampire slammed her into the back of her truck so hard the world went black, but his cold, sweet blood was pouring into her mouth so she swallowed without thinking; pure supernatural strength sliding down her throat like sick, red syrup. Stories of “V” being sold on the black market peppered the news, and Grace instantly understood why. A feeling of invincibility slammed through her as though she’d been tossed into a tornado, daring her to spit in his face as she shoved a hand down south.
Shriveled or standing, a dead man’s dick was as vulnerable as anybody else’s, so Grace did her best to tear Caleb’s off, following a sadistic yank and twist with a ball-crunching knee to the nuts. And, yes – somebody screamed. It just wasn’t her. Screw it. At that point, it was go big or go to her grave, and even Eric cringed when she scrambled back holding a handful of pubes.
“Fight all you want, bitch,” Caleb snarled as he clawed at his crotch. “I get your body and blood, then he’s gonna tear your soul out and drink it while you die.”
Oh, yeah? Grace threw the kinky little hairs in his face and flipped him off. With both hands. “He didn’t get me the first time. No way in hell is he getting me tonight!”
“Over here!” Sookie started yelling as loud as she could, wildly waving her arms. “Run! Run! Get back to the door!”
“Shut up!” Eric hissed, still trying to shove his obstinate girlfriend back inside even as he struggled to pinpoint the creature he knew was hiding somewhere in the branches of the sprawling old oaks – but Grace wasn’t waiting for an introduction.
Still savoring the unexpected boost of vampire blood blowing through her veins, she tore around the Cadillac as though the hounds of hell were on her heels, a foot on the roll bar as she scrambled on top of the hood. Screw Eric Northman, his bar, and the list of questions still burning up her throat. If she could cram herself through the back glass, she was gonna lock it in 4-LOW, run that damned vampire over and haul it back to South Carolina as fast as eight cylinders could go – but Caleb recovered and jumped on her so fast, she barely had time to pop the lock. The side mirror gave way with a sickening crack; her body trapped between hell and a sheet of black metal when he snatched her back like a gnat.
Sookie screamed when the crazed creature caught Grace full across the face with a fist, then drove her to the ground. Blood splattered when he ripped into her neck. Caleb gulped it down. “For god’s sake, Eric! Do something!”
So he did.
Throwing himself into the air, Eric flew over the shadows squirming all over the ground, grabbed Caleb by the back of the head and threw him toward the back of the lot. It was the smallest of gestures, but the vampire flew over forty feet, smacking into the chain fence so hard the post bent half in two. Eric plowed through the haze dimming the lights of the distant casinos, skimming the tree tops, determined to have answers, but Sookie was already off the steps.
She hit her knees, trying to gather Grace in her arms, drag her to the safety of inside. “Don’t worry,” she tried to quickly reassure her. “Eric will take care of the vampire. You’re safe.”
But Grace was fighting to shake her head. Actually pushing her away. “Not . . . just vampire,” she rasped through her badly mangled throat. “It’s . . . a . . . fairy.”
Sookie froze. “Fairy?”
Grace struggled to nod, clawing the gravel as she tried to pull herself up with the truck tire. She threw a tortured look to the trees – praying she saw nothing. Praying harder she’d finally see him. See the beautiful blond man who’d saved her from that stump. “Please . . .” she begged on a soft thread of air. “You never came back for me, but I believed in you. Don’t you dare let him take us, too.”
But it was Sookie who heard that silent prayer. And no way in hell did she intend to.
Snatching the keys from the ground, she threw open the truck door and caught Grace around the shoulders. Push come to shove, it was every human for themselves, and running over something to stay alive wasn’t just an idea she seconded to the thousandth power. It was something Sookie had actually done before when she plowed down one of the vampire queen’s guards with her old Chevy – but the second Grace grabbed her hand and blood oozed across the scar in her palm, a blinding flash sent her tumbling backwards with a shriek. Scraps of time whispered on the wind with memories of butterflies and the sweet, sweet smell of wisteria – then the protective spells that had hidden Grace from the fey for over twenty years shattered and fell away.
Sookie butt planted beside Grace as a shockwave of awareness rocked the very fabric of the fey – but the black prince skulking through the shadows was nowhere near finished.
Right behind them, the vampire Eric tossed aside earlier crept from the brush, coiling his muscles to launch himself at them again. Pouring on the speed, Eric slammed down from the sky, planting himself not a foot from the truck’s tail gate with fists clenched and fangs bare.
“S o o k i e!”
He roared the warning, but a brilliant flash of silver sliced the night as an elven blade sank to the hilt in Caleb’s skull. Eric watched in disbelief as a warrior with spun silver hair wrenched a thick serrated blade from Caleb’s skull then skewered him in the throat, severing his head with a move as smooth as water flowing over a fall. The ignorant fledgling certainly deserved to die, but the growl that roared out of Eric was automatic. A predator protecting his territory when he skidded to a halt just in time for blood to spray across his chest, though the executioner paid him no heed.
Casting the body aside, he inspected the dripping head.
“What gives you the right to enter my territory and kill someone under my command?” Eric demanded as he instinctively put the bulk of his Corvette between them. “Who the hell are you?”
The executioner hurled the head away, spiking it on a branch without ever breaking eye contact. “Scary motherfucker” seemed the most appropriate answer when the air shifted and he met him on the very next breath – nose-to-nose; his tall, lithe body armored in leather and velvet the likes of which Eric hadn’t seen since the Medieval Ages. The royal crest on his sheaths spoke of an unseen world, the unflinching glint in his gaze making clear Eric might be able to fly, but he could step right out of the air and they could play tag anytime.
The thousand-year-old Viking vampire didn’t give an inch. “When I ask a question, I require a reply,” Eric growled, fangs glistening above the now bloody black cotton of his shirt.
A second warrior stepped out of the air in answer, violet eyes beaming beneath long, bleached cornrows thick with shiny shells. His body roiled with power, yet euphoria swirled round him as though he’d waltzed right out of a rainbow, telling Eric exactly what they were: freaking fairies. Warriors like none he’d ever faced before, then the very molecules of the air split open and two of the most ancient and powerful creatures he’d ever seen stepped out.
The first was a man in flowing scarlet robes with an ethereal silver crown atop his head, waist-length hair so black it shown blue strung through with braids Eric only remembered from centuries long past . . . and the second. Eric reeled, but before he even had time to wonder, the King of the Fey himself was standing so close the frown of his pale, silken forehead put a foul taste on his tongue. Niall Brigant could be one scary son of a bitch when he wanted to be. The fairy eased an inch closer. He wanted to be.
“You dare stand and demand explanations, when I was just nearly wrenched out of my skin?” His brilliant blond head tilted, eyes of bottomless sea green melting to a pure, dead red. “You will tell me what trickery has drawn me here this night, Northman. And I do most certainly require a reply!”
He sure as hell got one. An unholy shriek tore through the sky. Shadows poured over the ground like a killing kiss.
“Haldir – Kalen, now!” Niall bellowed.
The braid-haired warrior instantly disappeared, but Eric was all for saving his own ass. Sprinting around the Escalade, he grabbed a girl under each arm and dove in the back of the truck, fangs and claws making clear he’d kill anything that dared to touch so much as a tire. The king and warrior who killed Caleb were up the trees in two leaps. The night fell utterly silent, then they all flashed back together looking like they were gonna hurl.
Kalen jerked a finger to the southwest corner of the building, glaring beneath his braids. No matter where Sookie went, a fey guard should’ve been on watch. Instead, a pile of glittering dust and cloth lay stomped down in the weeds. “Soren has been murdered!” the fairy seethed.
“Aye. By a killer who pleasured himself as he watched.” Caleb’s executioner threw down a branch dripping with thick, stinking white strings of seed. “The trees burn with black magic. The whole of this clearing does.”
“It was a man.” Eric hit the ground and readily locked gazes with Niall. “A dark haired man who approached Sookie in the bar.”
“A fairy.” Sookie came stumbling out of the back of the Escalade. “The girl told me it was a fairy.”
“It was Dermot.”
A feral rumble crept up Niall’s throat, then fey warriors burst right out of the air, spreading in every direction. “Kalen, summon as many guardians as you need. Any of them. All of them! You bring that boy to me – alive!”
With a blink, the fierce warrior stood back on the roof, but Niall strode into the center of the lot and called down a blistering blast of light.
Just as Eric and Sookie had seen, an army of shadows grabbed at everything in sight; a twitching squirm like a hundred lizards who lost their tail. Eric frantically thought of Pam and Logan, praying they kept a safe distance as he watched a thick finger hook round the back tire of his Corvette to lay in wait. Niall waded right into their midst. A clutch of his fingers dragged them away from the building, then he lifted his face to the sky and simply closed his fist. Shadows exploded to dust. His dark and pinstriped suit melted to a halo of molten gold as the fierce fire of his fëa broke through – then the night burst back to life in a shower of dewdrops and shone as beautifully as every sunrise Eric had missed in his long life.
The vampire wanted nothing more than a moment to digest even a fraction of what he was witnessing. Instead, Sookie dropped the tailgate and began to beg, “Please, great-grandfather . . . this girl. She needs our help!”
The group hastened to the back of the towering four-wheel drive where they found Grace propped against a faded old cooler; eyes closed, neck bloodied and pale – but the moment Niall caught sight of her face, he was the one who flinched as if he’d been struck.
“Laurel Grace?” His entire body began to shake. He took a hesitant step forward, disbelief pouring across his features. “Valar be merciful, it cannot be. This child was killed. Murdered the same night as Sookie’s father and Fintan!”
“My father?” Sookie nearly launched herself at her great-grandfather. “What does this have to do with my daddy?” She jerked back to the crowned man now rapidly assessing Grace’s wounds. “Who the hell is that girl? Who are you?”
The man turned to her with a beautiful, ageless face. “I am Lord Elrond of Rivendell. King of Tol Eressëa, the second Isle of the Blessed.”
“Aye, he is my half-brother,” Niall hurried to add. “And that girl . . . that girl is my second great-grandchild.”
“Second?” Sookie gasped in shock and excitement. “You mean I’m not the only one?”
No – and Eric’s gut nearly turned in on itself. Before that moment, he was unaware Niall possessed either a brother or second great-grandchild. But there it was. Five thousand reasons a soft, drawled voice from South Carolina offered to pay him for information boiled down to a single, breathing one. Grace was the same as Sookie. Her cousin. A halfling descended of the royal fairy bloodline – and a vampire he was sheriff over had just tried to eat her alive.
“God Dammit, Grace!!! You Gotta Live!!!”
Sookie yelled it so loud, Eric knew his ears were gonna ring for a week. He’d had nearly two good years without a freak out from her. No werewolves hiding in the kitchen. No bodies dumped in the woods. No maenads, no witches. Not even another hostile vampire takeover of the state. And it all went to shit in under a second.
She tore back to the truck like a house on fire, and Elrond might’ve been working as hard as he could to help Grace, but he was definitely not doing it fast enough for her.
“The vampire punched her in the face! He slammed her on her back. My god, do you see how much blood is coming from her neck? She’s got bite marks on her arm! Are you gonna be able to do something about that big cut on her cheek?”
Even the silver-haired warrior looked startled, but Sookie was just getting warmed up when her foot hit the ground with a self-serving “Hmph!” and she crooked a finger at him. “And what are you still standing there for, Eric? You’ve got clotting agents in your blood! It’ll stop anything from bleeding! Don’t you see that big stain on her shirt? Get moving! Come on! No way in hell is my new cousin gonna die!”
Five supernatural stares converged on one determined little southern woman. And did Eric get moving? You bet your ass he did.
Fangs bare, Eric tore open his wrist and shoved it against the mangled side of Grace’s neck so his coagulant-laden blood would coat the worse of her wounds. Light flamed to life as Elrond threw tiny threads of flame across her flesh, closing every gouge and gash with unbreakable magic stitches as a long-dead language spilled from his lips. Still, serious as the situation was, the king made time for the slightest nod of approval. “Demanding, is she?”
Eric slid his lover an admiring look. “You have no idea. But if we don’t want this girl to die, she’s right. Grace has to take in fresh blood, and fast. There’s bottled inside, but fresh would definitely be better.”
“Not from you, Northman!” Niall immediately interceded. “Sookie being bound to you is revolting enough, but no vampire will ever hold claim over both of my great-grandchildren.” He flicked a withering look at the vampire on the ground. “And I will never allow one of them to be turned nightwalker either.”
Sookie looked like she wanted to punch him in the face. Eric vehemently agreed. He and Niall typically got along well, but he wanted nothing more than to throw himself on the arrogant old ass and slam his head into a tree – but Grace looked worse in the rippling reflections of light, and Elrond was already beckoning the silver-haired warrior to come closer.
“Lasto! Hurry! Those putrid shadows cost this child. Northman, saes, please – show Haldir what to do.”
Without so much as a shift of air, the warrior was planted beside Eric for the second time that night. Refusal obviously wasn’t an option – not for either of them – though his frown left no doubt he’d come there for the protection of those two lords, not some sick act of blood sharing. Too bad those hands on Sookie’s hips made clear it wasn’t the time for moral objections or an ethical debate.
“Don’t worry, fairy,” Eric gloated as he ripped off his shirt. “Cut your hand. I’ll get it in her.”
Snorting under his breath, Haldir reached to the pocket of his thick leather pants and slipped a small blade from its usual place. “You speak to no fairy, Northman.” With no thought or hesitation, he sliced open his hand. “I am an elf.”
Eric froze with the wad of black cotton half wrapped around Grace’s neck. He’d assumed Haldir was just some young warrior eager to show off for his king. Now, Eric suddenly recognized the power of the soul at his side. A creature of lore breathing and solid and standing there in the flesh – and one far, far older than him, though Haldir barely looked a day better than thirty.
Grace couldn’t have cared less.
Clutching at the familiar metal of her truck, she cracked open a pair of grey eyes identical to Elrond’s; grabbing Eric’s arm with fingers broken on a vampire’s face so the world would please be still.
“Jesus God! Thank you, Lord, she’s awake. Hush, now, Grace. It’s alright,” Sookie hurried to soothe her, hoping the sight of a human would help. “The vampire who hurt you is dead. You’ve lost a lot of blood, but we’re gonna help you drink a bit to put it back. Just let us help you. I promise everything will be alright.”
Grace looked straight in her face. “Fuck . . . That . . . Fairy!”
Eric adored her on sight. If it hadn’t quite possibly ended with his own head stuck on a limb, he would’ve laughed his ass off right then and there. Instead, he settled for the comfortable assumption Grace was coming to him for information on the OTHER side of her family, and that she and Sookie would get along just great.
Haldir just shook his head. “It is always about the other island.”
Right then, it was all about Grace. Her head was doing loops like a Tilt-A-Whirl gone wrong, but even if she couldn’t speak it, she could think it, and the girl almost burned Sookie’s brain out of her head. Fuck this shit! Were these people actually touching her truck? Did that asshole vamp really tear up her favorite flip flops? Oh, hell, no! Grace didn’t care if she had to get a shovel and dig for the strength, she’d crawl back out of Louisiana. To hell with these fanged fuckers and their bottled blood. She could ask questions over the phone! The only supernatural creature she ever wanted to see again was that happy bitch in the tampon commercials. She wanted cigarettes and a cold Corona with lime. She wanted her keys and inside that Escalade. Wanted back on South Carolina sand. These people in Shreveport were nuts, and Fangtasia could keep their freaking t-shirt!
“Ummm . . .“ Sookie frantically chewed her lip. “Maybe we should let her have a few beer first.”
Haldir thought not. His determined indigo eyes locked with the concerned vampire staring back, then he just pulled Grace into the crook of his arm, sucked in a mouthful of the blood pouring from his palm, then clamped his mouth over her own.
“Umphaa glrp mphygph!!!”
Sookie was pretty sure nobody wanted to know what that meant, but the garbled noises pouring out of Grace didn’t faze Haldir of Lórien at all. His strong arms and broad chest blocked out everything else with the smell of ancient Mallorns and earthy musk; his wickedly soft tongue teasing her lips until her muddled mind finally decided she’d died and an angel had come to claim her when her mouth slid open and he spit the blood inside. And hell, yeah, she swallowed, because there wasn’t a woman alive, dead, or anywhere in-between who could say no to that shit.
Well, not until Lord Elrond extended a hand to Sookie. “Come, child!” he hurried with a gentle rustling of robes. “Haldir knows what must be done, so we return to Imladris at once. Until this settles, you girls will be safe in elven arms.”
Do what?? Eric’s fangs popped back out of his mouth. Sookie’s freaked out feeling came back – then the little fucker started to breed. “Ummm . . . Ummmm.”
Everyone’s ears could just be grateful her guardian angel shut her mouth before she exploded with another spew that went something like, “Ohmigod, you can’t be serious, you want to take me to the fairy lands even though Lord Niall never offered but Ohmigod, what if you never bring me back and I don’t ever see my house or Merlotte’s or Sam or Pam or Arlene or Bill Compton (who is such an ugly, whiney arrogant cheating lowlife backstabbing bastard of an ass!) or Eric ever again?” She forced herself to breathe very slowly, then took a deliberate step back – and slammed straight into the vampire. Her vampire. That big, badass blond Viking about to send a “911” text to everything with fangs inside Fangtasia and start a supernatural war if anything with pointed ears so much as put one finger anywhere near her unless she very, very explicitly asked for it first.
“Eric keeps me safe,” she finally said after a very weird little silent spell. “I – I appreciate the offer, but I have to stay here. I have a job. A house. Obligations.” Sookie’s voice shook a little, but her spine was straight. Her eyes locked on the elf now holding her cousin tight to his chest. “Just – just promise you’ll bring Grace back.”
Elrond studied Eric for a good long moment as if measuring his merit, then laid a hand over his heart and inclined his beautiful dark head to her. “Aye, I will, child.” Then with a curt nod of thanks in the vampire’s direction, the trio shattered to shadow, leaving them to do little more than stare. Ok, who were they trying to kid? Sookie and Eric were both shocked as shit, because Grace and those two elves simply weren’t there anymore. Eric took his own step back – and dragged Sookie with him. The fey were always excruciatingly careful to hide their powers. Tonight it was on full display, and he and Sookie were living through the crash course when a glance back showed fey guards circling the perimeter of the lot.
Herding Sookie toward the safety of the door, Eric scrambled to eavesdrop, watching a foursome of leather-clad creatures canvass the sprawling old oak overhead while two others carefully collected the shimmering dust of the dead fairy from the weeds. Their destruction of evidence was so quick and efficient, he barely managed to note the tag number of Grace’s Escalade before a duo laid the broken mirror in the back, set a hand on the hood, then the entire thing disappeared – fairies, truck and every trace of Sookie’s new cousin included.
“Jesus Christ, Shepherd of Judea!” Sookie jumped about a mile when the key fob dissolved right out of her hand. Twice that far when Niall snapped his fingers, snatched a guard out of the air, then nailed him with a look that could’ve fried his fairy ass right where he stood. “Nuada has not answered my summons, so you will go – get – him. Now!” The guards around him got slapped with a searing glare. “This ends tonight as it should have been ended two decades ago!”
Neither Eric nor Sookie had any idea what was about to end. They just hoped they were excluded when Niall stepped out of the air not three feet from them. At least he didn’t hold out his hand.
“My heart,” he said to Sookie, expression painfully tender as he pulled her close for a kiss to the cheek. “Bless you, and all you did to save little Laurel Grace. I am so very sorry you were pulled into this, but all will be taken care of by the morn.”
“Is that so?” It came out so sarcastic any southerner would’ve been proud. Eric couldn’t resist.
“Indeed.” The fairy forced a smile, hair falling all around his shoulders like strands of gold and silver. “Though Sookie, child, no doubt you are exhausted of all of this. Perhaps it would be best if you retired inside so Eric and I might have a word?”
Translation = The men need to talk where there are no witnesses. Sookie bristled. “Great-grandfather,” she said, getting concerned in the very worst kind of way, “please I . . .”
Poof! Was already gone.
One flick of a silken finger and Sookie was standing in Eric’s office staring through the plate glass window. Ok, she was having a full blown conniption fit, but neither one of them paid attention. Relations between vampires and fairies had been tenuous for centuries, and all it would take was one very unfortunate accident like this to break the vapor of truce that remained between them. A glance from Niall bowed a branch as thick as his wrist. Eric considered it broken.
“Twenty-four hours from this moment, you will have located the putrid excuse of a being responsible for creating this rogue monster and delivered him to me for punishment. Are we clear?”
Crystal. Only Eric didn’t hesitate to meet his fierce scowl. “You may be Lord in your world, but not in mine. The fairies want to negotiate terms of compensation regarding tonight’s attack? Start with the truth.” He wiggled his fingers in the mock approximation of casting a spell. “Dermot? Black magic in the trees? Caleb wasn’t in control of himself when he attacked that girl.” He stomped an alligator boot in a pile of soggy leather pants and a melting chest. “And since this fledgling was killed without my permission, it’s the fey who are indebted to me.”
“To you?” Niall almost looked amused. He plucked a shiny canine from the stinking mat of filth festering on the end of the limb. Held Caleb’s two-inch fang up so Eric could see. “The fey owe you nothing, Northman, nor will I utter one word toward saving a race that has devoted itself to the extermination of my own.” The branch snapped back and the stinking skull went flying. “Now, the only thing you need know is that if Laurel Grace does not recover, I will fill Fangtasia with so many fey you will swear Armageddon has arrived – so as I said. You have exactly one day to arrange a tribunal for proper penance, or I will find another to take his maker’s place. One that may very well find himself sealed in a silver coffin and tossed in the oceans off Tír na nÓg for all eternity. Minus. Their. Tongue.”
The fairy lord turned on his heel and stalked back toward the trees, but Eric fearlessly challenged his back, “I saw the scars on that girl. The scars on Grace. Fire if I had to guess. Probably burned her entire back before it wrapped up her arms and caught the edges of her hair.” He stared down the fairy now turned back to face him with skin ten times too pale. “Think I could live as long as I have without knowing there are fey who can do that? It’s one of the rarer magicks. Sookie’s telepathic, but elementals control the environment around them. Can command a river to pull down the car holding Sookie’s parents. Fill tonight’s sky with blue lightning and make the shadows live. You don’t want to tell me how to help you, Niall? Suit yourself. You’re the one who has to answer to Sookie and Grace.”
Niall snapped back at him like a bulldog on a very, very short leash. “And what would have me tell them, nightwalker?” he nearly exploded. “That Dermot has long been exiled from this world and my own, yet came here just the same? That he is grandfather to that girl you scraped from the ground? Twin to the grandfather of the other? That he was smart enough to use the royal blood between them, and Sookie herself showed him Laurel Grace was still alive?” The fairy shifted a few feet closer, memories sliding out of him like thick, black dirt. “You believe you know what happened to Laurel Grace? What do you know of a morning that scorched my soul until my very bones bled its tears . . . the Great Council standing round him in our damned half circle with the blood still wet on his hands, and that boy did nothing but smile and lick his lips. It was not just Sookie’s father who died. Dermot killed his own brother that night. Killed my granddaughter, and the witch who was her mother, Mikita, too. And yes, Eric. He burned them alive. Murdered one of the most powerful witches ever to walk this world. A woman who loved him so much she could not refuse him the black magic now rotting him from the inside out – so if you take nothing from this night, you take this.”
The fang bounced off a blood-soaked stone and shattered; his restraint at not crushing all of Fangtasia to dust simply to hear the snapping sounds proof of the enormous power – and waning patience – Niall held. “Vampires may celebrate how few of the fey remain if they wish, but truth be told, my people thrive in a world of our very own. The fairies stand with our elven cousins in an allegiance stronger than you can conceive, and I will bring every ounce of that power to bear before another member of my family is lost. Now you have but one task, so it would behoove you to do it quickly . . . for if any creature cares to wage a war over my great-granddaughters? It is standing right here.”
Many thanks to IGNOBLEBARD for offering a hand up on this chapter when much needed.