New in the “addicting” New York Times bestselling series featuring Sookie Stackhouse.
After the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the manmade explosion at the vampire summit, everyone—human and otherwise—is stressed, including Louisiana cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse, who is trying to cope with the fact that her boyfriend Quinn has gone missing.
It’s clear that things are changing—whether the weres and vamps of her corner of Louisiana like it or not. And Sookie—Friend to the Pack and blood-bonded to Eric Northman, leader of the local vampire community—is caught up in the changes.
In the ensuing battles, Sookie faces danger, death, and once more, betrayal by someone she loves. And when the fur has finished flying and the cold blood finished flowing, her world will be forever altered.
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Charlaine Harris is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse and Midnight, Texas, fantasy/mystery series and the Aurora Teagarden, Harper Connelly, and Lily Bard mystery series. Her books have inspired HBO’s True Blood, NBC’s Midnight, Texas, and the Aurora Teagarden movies for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. She has lived in the South her entire life.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Ace Books by Charlaine Harris
The Sookie Stackhouse Novels DEAD UNTIL DARK LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS CLUB DEAD DEAD TO THE WORLD DEAD AS A DOORNAIL DEFINITELY DEAD ALL TOGETHER DEAD FROM DEAD TO WORSE MANY BLOODY RETURNS edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner
Berkley Prime Crime Books by Charlaine Harris
The Harper Connelly Mysteries GRAVE SIGHT GRAVE SURPRISE AN ICE COLD GRAVE The Lily Bard Mysteries SHAKESPEARE’S LANDLORD SHAKESPEARE’S CHAMPION SHAKESPEARE’S TROLLOP SHAKESPEARE’S COUNSELOR The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries REAL MURDERS A BONE TO PICK THREE BEDROOMS, ONE CORPSE SWEET AND DEADLY A SECRET RAGE
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1. Vampires—Fiction. 2. Supernatural—Fiction. 3. Louisiana—Fiction. I. Title.
Though she can’t walk or see quite as well as she used to, my mother, Jean Harris, remains the most complete person I have ever met. She’s been the bulwark of my existence, the foundation I was built on, and the best mother a woman could have.
A tip of the hat to Anastasia Luettecke, who was a perfectionist in supplying me with Octavia’s Latin. And thanks to Murv Sellars for being the go-between. As always, I owe a great debt of thanks to Toni L. P. Kelner and Dana Cameron for their valuable comments and the gift of their time. My one and only minion, Debi Murray, assisted me with her encyclopedic knowledge of the Sookie universe. The group of enthusiastic readers known as Charlaine’s Charlatans gave me moral (and morale) support, and I hope this book will serve as their reward.
If this was The Lord of the Rings and I had a smart British voice like Cate Blanchett, I could tell you the background of the events of that fall in a really suspenseful way. And you’d be straining to hear the rest.
But what happened in my little corner of northwest Louisiana wasn’t an epic story. The vampire war was more of the nature of a small-country takeover, and the Were war was like a border skirmish. Even in the annals of supernatural America—I guess they exist somewhere—they were minor chapters . . . unless you were actively involved in the takeovers and skirmishes.
Then they became pretty damn major.
And everything was due to Katrina, the disaster that just kept on spreading grief, woe, and permanent change in its wake.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana had a flourishing vampire community. In fact, the vampire population of New Orleans had burgeoned, making it the place to go if you wanted to see vampires; and lots of Americans did. The undead jazz clubs, featuring musicians no one had seen playing in public in decades, were special draws. Vamp strip clubs, vamp psychics, vamp sex acts; secret and not-so-secret places where you could get bitten and have an orgasm on the spot: all this was available in southern Louisiana.
In the northern part of the state . . . not so much. I live in the northern part in a small town called Bon Temps. But even in my area, where vamps are relatively thin on the ground, the undead were making economic and social strides.
All in all, vampire business in the Pelican State was booming. But then came the death of the King of Arkansas while his wife, the Queen of Louisiana, was entertaining him soon after their wedding. Since the corpse vanished and all the witnesses— except me—were supernaturals, human law took no notice. But the other vampires did, and the queen, Sophie-Anne Leclerq, landed in a very dicey legal position. Then came Katrina, which wiped out the financial base of Sophie-Anne’s empire. Still, the queen was floundering back from those disasters, when another one followed hard on their heels. Sophie-Anne and some of her strongest adherents—and me, Sookie Stackhouse, telepath and human—were caught in a terrible explosion in Rhodes, the destruction of the vampire hotel called the Pyramid of Gizeh. A splinter group of the Fellowship of the Sun claimed responsibility, and while the leaders of that anti-vampire “church” decried the hate crime, everyone knew that the Fellowship was hardly agonizing over those who were terribly wounded in the blast, much less over the (finally, absolutely) dead vampires or the humans who served them.
Sophie-Anne lost her legs, several members of her entourage, and her dearest companion. Her life was saved by her half-demon lawyer, Mr. Cataliades. But her recuperation time was going to be lengthy, and she was in a position of terrible vulnerability.
What part did I play in all this?
I’d helped save lives after the pyramid went down, and I was terrified I was now on the radar of people who might want me to spend my time in their service, using my telepathy for their purposes. Some of those purposes were good, and I wouldn’t mind lending a hand in rescue services from time to time, but I wanted to keep my life to myself. I was alive; my boyfriend, Quinn, was alive; and the vampires most important to me had survived, too. As far as the troubles Sophie-Anne faced, the political consequences of the attack and the fact that supernatural groups were circling the weakened state of Louisiana like hyenas around a dying gazelle ... I didn’t think about it at all.
I had other stuff on my mind, personal stuff. I’m not used to thinking much further than the end of my fingertips; that’s my only excuse. Not only was I not thinking about the vampire situation, there was another supernatural situation I didn’t ponder that turned out to be just as crucial to my future.
Close to Bon Temps, in Shreveport, there’s a Were pack whose ranks are swollen by the men and women from Barksdale Air Force Base. During the past year, this Were pack had become sharply divided between two factions. I’d learned in American History what Abraham Lincoln, quoting the Bible, had to say about houses divided.
To assume that these two situations would work themselves out, to fail to foresee that their resolution would involve me, well ... that was where I was almost fatally blind. I’m telepathic, not psychic. Vampire minds are big relaxing blanks to me. Weres are difficult to read, though not impossible. That’s my only excuse for being unaware of the trouble brewing all around me.
What was I so busy thinking about? Weddings—and my missing boyfriend.
I was making a neat arrangement of liquor bottles on the folding table behind the portable bar when Halleigh Robinson rushed up, her normally sweet face flushed and tear-streaked. Since she was supposed to be getting married within an hour and was still wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, she got my immediate attention.
“Sookie!” she said, rounding the bar to grab my arm. “You have to help me.”
I’d already helped her by putting on my bartending clothes instead of the pretty dress I’d planned on wearing. “Sure,” I said, imagining Halleigh wanted me to make her a special drink— though if I’d listened in to her thoughts, I’d have known differently already. However, I was trying to be on my best behavior, and I was shielding like crazy. Being telepathic is no picnic, especially at a high-tension event like a double wedding. I’d expected to be a guest instead of a bartender. But the caterer’s bartender had been in a car wreck on her way over from Shreveport, and Sam, who’d been unhired when E(E)E had insisted on using their own bartender, was abruptly hired again.
I was a little disappointed to be on the working side of the bar, but you had to oblige the bride on her special day. “What can I do for you?” I asked.
“I need you to be my bridesmaid,” she said.
“Ah . . . what?”
“Tiffany fainted after Mr. Cumberland took the first round of pictures. She’s on her way to the hospital.”
It was an hour before the wedding, and the photographer had been trying to get a number of group shots out of the way. The bridesmaids and the groomsmen were already togged out. Halleigh should have been getting into her wedding finery, but instead here she was in jeans and curlers, no makeup, and a tear-streaked face.
Who could resist that?
“You’re the right size,” she said. “And Tiffany is probably just about to have her appendix out. So, can you try on the dress?”
I glanced at Sam, my boss.
Sam smiled at me and nodded. “Go on, Sook. We don’t officially open for business until after the wedding.”
So I followed Halleigh into Belle Rive, the Bellefleur mansion, recently restored to something like its antebellum glory. The wooden floors gleamed, the harp by the stairs shone with gilt, the silverware displayed on the big sideboard in the dining room glowed with polishing. There were servers in white coats buzzing around everywhere, the E(E)E logo on their tunics done in an elaborate black script. Extreme(ly Elegant) Events had become the premier upscale caterer in the United States. I felt a stab in my heart when I noticed the logo, because my missing guy worked for the supernatural branch of E(E)E. I didn’t have long to feel the ache, though, because Halleigh was dragging me up the stairs at a relentless pace.
The first bedroom at the top was full of youngish women in gold-colored dresses, all fussing around Halleigh’s soon-to-be sister-in-law, Portia Bellefleur. Halleigh zoomed past that door to enter the second room on the left. It was equally full of younger women, but these were in midnight blue chiffon. The room was in chaos, with the bridesmaids’ civilian clothes piled here and there. There was a makeup and hair station over by the west wall, staffed by a stoic woman in a pink smock, curling rod in her hand.
Halleigh tossed introductions through the air like paper pellets. “Gals, this is Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie, this is my sister Fay, my cousin Kelly, my best friend Sarah, my other best friend Dana. And here’s the dress. It’s an eight.”
I was amazed that Halleigh had had the presence of mind to divest Tiffany of the bridesmaid dress before her departure for the hospital. Brides are ruthless. In a matter of minutes, I was stripped down to the essentials. I was glad I’d worn nice underwear, since there wasn’t any time for modesty. How embarrassing it would have been to be in granny panties with holes! The dress was lined, so I didn’t need a slip, another stroke of luck. There was a spare pair of thigh-highs, which I pulled on, and then the dress went over my head. Sometimes I wear a ten—in fact, most of the time—so I was holding my breath while Fay zipped it up.
If I didn’t breathe a lot, it would be okay.
“Super!” one of the other women (Dana?) said with great happiness. “Now the shoes.”
“Oh, God,” I said when I saw them. They were very high heels dyed to match the midnight blue dress, and I slid my feet into them, anticipating pain. Kelly (maybe) buckled the straps, and I stood up. All of us held our breath as I took a step, then another. They were about half a size too small. It was an important half.
“I can get through the wedding,” I said, and they all clapped.
"Over here then,” said Pink Smock, and I sat in her chair and had more makeup reapplied over my own and my hair redone while the real bridesmaids and Halleigh’s mother assisted Halleigh into her dress. Pink Smock had a lot of hair to work with. I’ve only had light trims in the past three years, I guess, and it’s way down past my shoulder blades now. My roommate, Amelia, had put some highlights in, and that had turned out real good. I was blonder than ever.
I examined myself in the full-length mirror, and it seemed impossible I could have been so transformed in twenty minutes. From working barmaid in a white ruffled tux shirt and black trousers to bridesmaid in a midnight blue dress—and three inches taller, to boot.
Hey, I looked great. The dress was a super color for me, the skirt was gently A-line, the short sleeves weren’t too tight, and it wasn’t low cut enough to look slutty. With my boobs, the slut factor kicks in if I’m not careful.
I was yanked out of self-admiration by the practical Dana, who said, “Listen, here’s the drill.” From that moment on, I listened and nodded. I examined a little diagram. I nodded some more. Dana was one organized gal. If I ever invaded a small country, this was the woman I wanted on my side.
By the time we made our way carefully down the stairs (long skirts and high heels, not a good combination), I was fully briefed and ready for my first trip down the aisle as a bridesmaid.
Most girls have done this a couple of times before they reach twenty-six, but Tara Thornton, the only friend I had close enough to ask me, had up and eloped while I was out of town.
The other wedding party was assembled downstairs when we descended. Portia’s group would precede Halleigh’s. The two grooms and their groomsmen were already outside if all was going smoothly, because now it was fi...
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