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Charlaine Harris writes both fantasies and mysteries. She lives in southern Arkansas with her family.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The First Week
“I feel bad that I’m leaving you like this,” Amelia said. Her eyes were puffy and red. They’d been that way, off and on, ever since Tray Dawson’s funeral.
“You have to do what you have to do,” I said, giving her a very bright smile. I could read the guilt and shame and ever-present grief roiling around Amelia’s mind in a ball of darkness. “I’m lots better,” I reassured her. I could hear myself babbling cheerfully along, but I couldn’t seem to stop. “I’m walking okay, and the holes are all filled in. See how much better?” I pulled down my jeans waistband to show her a spot that had been bitten out. The teeth marks were hardly perceptible, though the skin wasn’t quite smooth and was visibly paler than the surrounding flesh. If I hadn’t had a huge dose of vampire blood, the scar would’ve looked like a shark had bitten me.
Amelia glanced down and hastily away, as if she couldn’t bear to see the evidence of the attack. “It’s just that Octavia keeps e-mailing me and telling me I need to come home and accept my judgment from the witches’ council, or what’s left of it,” she said in a rush. “And I need to check all the repairs to my house. And since there are a few tourists again, and people returning and rebuilding, the magic store’s reopened. I can work there part-time. Plus, as much as I love you and I love living here, since Tray died...”
“Believe me, I understand.” We’d gone over this a few times.
“It’s not that I blame you,” Amelia said, trying to catch my eyes.
She really didn’t blame me. Since I could read her mind, I knew she was telling me the truth.
Even I didn’t totally blame myself, somewhat to my surprise.
It was true that Tray Dawson, Amelia’s lover and a Were, had been killed while he’d been acting as my bodyguard. It was true that I’d requested a bodyguard from the Were pack nearest me because they owed me a favor and my life needed guarding. However, I’d been present at the death of Tray Dawson at the hands of a sword-wielding fairy, and I knew who was responsible.
So I didn’t feel guilty, exactly. But I felt heartsick about losing Tray, on top of all the other horrors. My cousin Claudine, a full-blooded fairy, had also died in the Fae War, and since she’d been my real, true fairy godmother, I missed her in a lot of ways. And she’d been pregnant.
I had a lot of pain and regret of all kinds, physical and mental. While Amelia carried an armful of clothes downstairs, I stood in her bedroom, gathering myself. Then I braced my shoulders and lifted a box of bathroom odds and ends. I descended the stairs carefully and slowly, and I made my way out to her car. She turned from depositing the clothes across the boxes already stowed in her trunk. “You shouldn’t be doing that!” she said, all anxious concern. “You’re not healed yet.”
“Not hardly. You always jump when someone comes into the room and surprises you, and I can tell your wrists hurt,” she said. She grabbed the box and slid it into the backseat. “You still favor that left leg, and you still ache when it rains. Despite all that vamp blood.”
“The jumpiness’ll get better. As time passes, it won’t be so fresh and at the front of my mind,” I told Amelia. (If telepathy had taught me anything, it was that people could bury the most serious and painful of memories, if you gave them enough time and distraction.) “The blood is not just any vampire’s. It’s Eric’s blood. It’s strong stuff. And my wrists are a lot better.” I didn’t mention that the nerves were jumping around in them like hot snakes just at this moment, a result of their having been tied together tightly for several hours. Dr. Ludwig, physician to the supernatural, had told me the nerves — and the wrists — would be back to normal, eventually.
“Yeah, speaking of the blood . . .” Amelia took a deep breath and steeled herself to say something she knew I wouldn’t like. Since I heard it before she actually voiced it, I was able to brace myself. “Had you thought about... Sookie, you didn’t ask me, but I think you better not have any more of Eric’s blood. I mean, I know he’s your man, but you got to think about the consequences. Sometimes people get flipped by accident. It’s not like it’s a math equation.”
Though I appreciated Amelia’s concern, she’d trespassed into private territory. “We don’t swap,” I said. Much. “He just has a sip from me at, you know . . . the happy moment.” These days Eric was having a lot more happy moments than I was, sadly. I kept hoping the bedroom magic would return; if any male could perform sexual healing, that male would be Eric.
Amelia smiled, which was what I’d been aiming for. “At least...”
She turned away without finishing the sentence, but she was thinking, At least you feel like having sex.
I didn’t so much feel like having sex as I felt like I ought to keep trying to enjoy it, but I definitely didn’t want to discuss that. My ability to cast aside control, which is the key to good sex, had been pinched out of existence during the torture. I’d been absolutely helpless. I could only hope that I’d recover in that area, too. I knew Eric could feel my lack of completion. He’d asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to engage in sex. Nearly every time, I said yes, operating on the bicycle theory. Yes, I’d fallen off. But I was always willing to try to ride it again.
“So, how’s the relationship doing?” she said. “Aside from the whoopee.” Every last thing was in Amelia’s car. She was stalling, dreading the moment when she actually got into her car and drove away.
It was only pride that was keeping me from bawling all over her.
“I think we’re getting along pretty well,” I said with a great effort at sounding cheerful. “I’m still not sure what I feel as opposed to what the bond is making me feel.” It was kind of nice to be able to talk about my supernatural connection to Eric, as well as my regular old man-woman attraction. Even before my injuries during the Fae War, Eric and I had established what the vampires called a blood bond, since we’d exchanged blood several times. I could sense Eric’s general location and his mood, and he could feel the same things about me. He was always faintly present in the back of my mind — sort of like turning on a fan or an air filter to provide a little buzz of noise that would help you get to sleep. (It was good for me that Eric slept all day, because I could be by myself at least part of the time. Maybe he felt the same way after I went to bed at night?) It wasn’t like I heard voices in my head or anything — at least no more than usual. But if I felt happy, I had to check to make sure it was me and not Eric who felt happy. Likewise for anger; Eric was big on anger, controlled and carefully banked anger, especially lately. Maybe he was getting that from me. I was pretty full of anger myself these days.
I’d forgotten all about Amelia. I’d stepped right into my own trough of depression.
She snapped me out of it. “That’s just a big fat excuse,” she said tartly. “Come on, Sookie. You love him, or you don’t. Don’t keep putting off thinking about it by blaming everything on your bond. Wah, wah, wah. If you hate the bond so much, why haven’t you explored how you can get free of it?” She took in the expression on my face, and the irritation faded out of her own. “Do you want me to ask Octavia?” she asked in a milder voice. “If anyone would know, she would.”
“Yes, I’d like to find out,” I said, after a moment. I took a deep breath. “You’re right, I guess. I’ve been so depressed I’ve put off making any decisions, or acting on the ones I’ve already made. Eric’s one of a kind. But I find him . . . a little overwhelming.” He was a strong personality, and he was used to being the big fish in the pond. He also
knew he had infinite time ahead of him.
I did not.
He hadn’t brought that up yet, but sooner or later, he would.
“Overwhelming or not, I love him,” I continued. I’d never said it out loud. “And I guess that’s the bottom line.”
“I guess it is.” Amelia tried to smile at me, but it was a woeful attempt. “Listen, you keep that up, the self-knowledge thing.” She stood for a moment, her expression frozen into the half smile. “Well, Sook, I better get on the road. My dad’s expecting me. He’ll be all up in my business the minute I get back to New Orleans.”
Amelia’s dad was rich, powerful, and had no belief in Amelia’s power at all. He was very wrong not to respect her witchcraft. Amelia had been born with the potential for the power in her, as every true witch is. Once Amelia had some more training and discipline, she was going to be really scary — scary on purpose, rather than because of the drastic nature of her mistakes. I hoped her mentor, Octavia, had a program in place to develop and train Amelia’s talent.
After I waved Amelia down the driveway, the broad smile dropped from my face. I sat on the porch steps and cried. It didn’t take much for me to be in tears these days, and my friend’s departure was just the trigger now. There was so much to weep about.
My sister-in-law, Crystal, had been murdered. My brother’s friend Mel had been executed. Tray and Claudine and Clancy the vampire had been killed in the line of duty. Since both Crystal and Claudine had been pregnant, that added two more deaths to the list.
Probably that should have made me long for peace above all else. But instead of turning into the Bon Temps Gandhi, in my heart I held the knowledge that there were plenty of people I wanted dead. I wasn’t directly responsible for most of the deaths that were scattered in my wake, but I was haunted by the feeling that none of them would have happened if it weren’t for me. In my darkest moments — and this was one of them — I wondered if my life was worth the price that had been paid for it.
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