A Sneak Peek inside Deadlocked . . . .

I love the Sookie Stackhouse series. I’m an unabashed Charlaine Harris fan girl. I know there are a lot of others out there like me. We have our own club. There’s a secret handshake. I know you’re all dying to join (bad pun intended). We’ll be accepting new members from 1st May. (Yes, that’s an awful plug for the publication date of Deadlocked)

However, I, like many other Sookie Stackhouse fans, have felt a sense of longing over the last few books. I’ve wondered where this story is going. I’ve missed the old Sookie. Her trademark wit, humour and Southern grace have been subdued in the last few books, understandably, due to the crushing events in the previous books. I’ve tired a bit of Eric. Yeah, at first I was Team Eric, but now, I dunno. I’m not sure what Sookie sees in him. The constant manipulations, the unreliability of his character and his inability to understand her feelings and her mortality made me doubt him. Even if he is a scorching hot Viking.

As I was getting ready to work on the marketing campaign for Deadlocked I asked Gillian if I could read the manuscript early. I wanted to get a sense of where this book was going. I wanted to get my head around the best way to present this book to Sookie fans. I also wanted to find out what happens to create a trailer—our first ever UK book trailer— for Deadlocked. (I know! I’m excited to share this with you too!)

I had to ask very nicely. A few times. But finally, I got my hands on the manuscript.

I sat down with a sense of ‘here we go’ around 8pm one night after work and looked up at the clock and was startled to find it was midnight. I’d lost the whole evening. I’d spent the entire night in Bon Temps. I couldn’t have been happier. Charlaine Harris has is a genius!

For those of you wondering if this book is like the last book? No. It’s better. This is the Sookie I’ve missed. Her wit and wisdom are clear on every page. Charlaine Harris’ writing sparkles! (Not literally like some other unfortunate vampires who shall not be named) This is a compelling penultimate book, that closes some doors and opens others wide and will leave readers wondering about what will happen next for Sookie . . . It’s a must read for every fan. And when you’re done reading let me know what you thought. You can find me on twitter: @gennmcmenemy. I can’t wait to hear what your thoughts.

May 1st is just under a month a way and I promise it’s worth the wait.

In the meantime, we’ve managed to get ahold of the first chapter. We promise you won’t be disappointed. Have a nice journey back to Bon Temps!

Chapter One

It was hot as the six shades of Hell even this late in the evening, and I’d had a busy day at work. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit in a crowded bar to watch my cousin get naked. But it was Ladies Only night at Hooligans, we’d planned this excursion for days, and the bar was full of hooting and hollering women determined to have a good time.

My very pregnant friend Tara sat to my right, and Holly, who worked at Sam Merlotte’s bar like me and Kennedy Keyes, sat on my left. Kennedy and Michele, my brother’s girlfriend, sat on the other side of the table.

“The Sook-ee,” Kennedy called, and grinned at me. Kennedy had been first runner-up to Miss Louisiana a few years ago, and despite her stint in prison she’d retained her spectacular looks and grooming, including teeth that could blind an oncoming bus.

”I’m glad you decided to come, Kennedy,” I said. “Danny doesn’t mind?” She’d been waffling the very afternoon before. I’d been sure she’d stay at home.

“Hey, I want to see some cute guys naked, don’t you?” Kennedy said.

I glanced around at the other women. “Unless I missed a page, we all get to see guys naked, on a regular basis;’ I said. Though I hadn’t been trying to be funny, my friends shrieked with laughter. They were just that giddy.

I’d only spoken the truth: I’d been dating Eric Northman for a while; Kennedy and Danny Prideaux had gotten pretty intense; Michele and Jason were practically living together; Tara was married and pregnant, for gosh sakes; and Holly was engaged to Hoyt Fortenberry, who barely stopped in at his own apartment any longer.

“You gotta at least be curious,” Michele said, raising her voice to be heard over the clamor. “Even if you get to see Claude around the house all the time. With his clothes on, but still …”

“Yeah, when’s his place gonna be ready for him to move back?”

Tara asked. “How long can it take to put in new plumbing?”

Claude’s Monroe house’s plumbing was in fine shape as far as I knew. The plumbing fiction was simply better than saying, “My cousin’s a fairy, and he needs the company of other fairies, since he’s in exile. Also, my half-fairy great-uncle Dermot, a carbon copy of my brother, came along for the heck of it.” The fae, unlike the vampires and the werewolves, wanted to keep their existence a deep secret.

Also, Michele’s assumption that I’d never seen Claude naked was incorrect. Though the spectacularly handsome Claude was my cousin­ and I certainly kept my clothes on around the house- the fairy atti­tude about nudity was totally casual. Claude, with his long black hair, brooding face, and rippling abs, was absolutely mouthwatering … until he opened his mouth. Dermot lived with me, too, but Dermot was more modest in his habits … maybe because I’d told him how I felt about bare-assed relatives.

I liked Dermot a lot better than I liked Claude. I had mixed feelings about Claude. None of those feelings were sexual. I’d very recently and reluctantly allowed him back into my house after we’d had an argu­ ment, in fact.

“I don’t mind having him and Dermot around the house. They’ve helped me out a lot,” I said weakly.

“What about Dermot? Does Dermot strip, too?” Kennedy asked hopefully.

“He does managerial stuff here. Him stripping would be weird for you, huh, Michele?” I said. Dermot’s a ringer for my brother, who’d been tight with Michele for a long time-a long time in Jason terms. “Yeah, I couldn’t watch that,” she said. “Except maybe for com­parison purposes!” We all laughed.

While they continued to talk about men, I looked around the club. I’d never been in Hooligans when it was this busy, and I’d never been to a Ladies Only night. There was a lot to think about-the staff, for example.

We’d paid our cover charge to a very buxom young woman with webs between her fingers. She’d flashed me a smile when she caught me staring, but my friends hadn’t given her a second glance. After we’d passed through the inner door, we were ushered to our seats by an elf named Bellenos, whom I’d last seen offering me the head of my enemy. Literally.

None of my friends seemed to notice anything different about Bellenos, either-but he didn’t look like a regular man to me. His head of auburn hair was smooth and peltlike, his far-apart eyes were slant­ ing and dark, his freckles were larger than human freckles, and the points of his needle-sharp inch-long teeth gleamed in the dim house lights. When I’d first met Bellenos, he’d been unable to mask himself as human. Now he could.

“Enjoy, ladies,” Bellenos had told us in his deep voice. “We’ve had this table reserved for you.” He’d given me a particular smile as he turned to go back to the entrance.

We were seated right by the stage. A hand-lettered sign in the middle of the tablecloth read, “Bon Temps Party.”

“I hope I get to thank Claude real personally,” Kennedy said, with a sultry leer. She was definitely fighting with Danny; I could tell. Michele giggled and poked Tara’s shoulder.

Finally, knowing Claude was a perk.

“That redhead who showed us to the table thought you were cute, Sookie,” Tara said uneasily. I could tell she was thinking of my full­ time boyfriend and vampire husband, Eric Northman. She figured he wouldn’t be too happy about a stranger ogling me.

“He was just being polite because I’m Claude’s cousin,” I said. “Like hell! He was looking at you like you were chocolate-chip­ cookie-dough ice cream;’ she said. “He wanted to eat you up.”

I was pretty sure she was right, but maybe not in the sense she meant; not that I could read Bellenos’s mind, any more than that of any other supernatural creature . .. but elves are what you’d call un­ restricted in their diet. I hoped Claude was keeping a close watch on the mixed bag of fae he’d accumulated here at Hooligans.

Meanwhile, Tara was complaining that her hair had lost all its body during her pregnancy, and Kennedy said, “Have a conditioning session at Death by Fashion in Shreveport. Immanuel’s the best.”

“He cut my hair once;’ I said, and they all looked at me in astonishment. “You remember? When my hair got singed?”

‘When the bar was bombed,” Kennedy said. “That was Immanuel? Wow, Sookie, I didn’t know you knew him.”

”A little,” I said. “I thought about getting some highlights, but he left town. The shop’s still open.” I shrugged.

”All the big talent leaves the state,” Holly said, and while they talked that over, I tried to arrange my rump in a comfortable position on the folding metal chair wedged between Holly and Tara. I carefully bent down to tuck my purse between my feet.

As I looked around me at all the excited customers, I began to relax. Surely I could enjoy this a little bit? I’d known the club was full of displaced fae since my last visit here, after all. I was with my friends, and they were all ready to have a good time. Surely I could allow myself to have a good time with them? Claude and Dermot were my kin, and they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. Right? I managed to smile at Bellenos when he came around to light the candle on our table, and I was laughing at a dirty joke of Michele’s when a waitress hustled over to take our drink orders. My smile faded. I remembered her from my previous visit.

“‘I’m Gift, and I’ll be your server tonight,” she said, just as perky as you please. Her hair was a bright blond, and she was very pretty. But since I was part fae (due to a massive indiscretion of my grand­ mother’s), I could see past the blonde’s cute exterior. Her skin wasn’t the honey tan everyone else was seeing. It was a pale, pale green. Her eyes had no pupils … or perhaps the pupils and irises were the same black? She fluttered her eyelids at me when no one else was looking. She might have two. Eyelids, that is. On each eye. I had time to notice because she bent so close to me.

“Welcome, Sister,” she murmured in my ear, and then straightened to beam at the others. “What y’all having tonight?” she asked with a perfect Louisiana accent.

“Well, Gift, I want you to know up front that most of us are in the serving business, too, so we’re not going to give you a hard time,” Holly said.

Gift twinkled back at her. ”I’m so glad to hear that! Not that you gals look like a hard time, anyway. I love Ladies Only night.”

While my friends ordered their drinks and baskets of fried pickles or tortilla chips, I glanced around the club to confirm my impression. None of the servers were human. The only humans here were the cus­tomers.

When it was my turn, I told Gift I wanted a Bud Light. She bent closer again to say, “How’s the vampire cutie, girlfriend?”

“He’s fine,” I said stiffly, though that was far from true.

Gift said, “You’re so cute!” and tapped me on the shoulder as if I’d said something witty. “Ladies, you doing all right? I’m going to go put your food orders in and get your drinks.” Her bright head gleamed like a lighthouse as she maneuvered expertly through the crowd.

“I didn’t know you knew all the staff here. How is Eric? I haven’t seen him since the fire at Merlotte’s,” Kennedy said. She’d clearly over­ heard Gift’s query. “Eric is one fine hunk of man.” She nodded wisely.
There was a chorus of agreement from my friends. Truly, Eric’s hunkiness was undeniable. The fact that he was dead weighed against him, especially in Tara’s eyes. She’d met Claude, and she hadn’t picked up on the fact that there was something different about him; but Eric, who never tried to pass for human, would always be on her blacklist. Tara had had a bad experience with a vampire, and it had left an indel­ible mark on her.

“He has a hard time getting away from Shreveport. He’s pretty busy with work,” I said. I stopped there. Talking about Eric’s business was always unwise.

“He’s not mad you’re going to watch another guy take off his clothes?

You sure you told him?” Kennedy asked, her smile hard and bright. There was definitely trouble in Kennedy-and-Danny land. Oh, I didn’t want to know about it.

“I think Eric is so confident he looks good naked that he doesn’t worry about me seeing someone else that way,” I said. I’d told Eric I was going to Hooligans. I hadn’t asked his permission; as Kennedy had said about Danny, he was not the boss of me. But I had sort of floated the idea by him to see how he reacted. Things between us hadn’t been comfortable for a few weeks. I didn’t want to upset our fragile boat­ not for such a frivolous reason.

As I’d expected, Eric had not taken our proposed girls’ night out very seriously. For one thing, he thought modern American attitudes about nudity were amusing. He’d seen a thousand years of long nights, and he’d lost his own inhibitions somewhere along the way. I suspected he’d never had that many.

My honey not only was calm about my viewing other men’s naked bodies; he wasn’t concerned about our destination. He didn’t seem to imagine there’d be any danger in the Monroe strip club. Even Pam, his second-in-command, had only shrugged when Eric had told her what we human females were going to do for entertainment. “Won’t be any vampires there,” she’d said, and after a token jab at Eric about my wanting to see other men in the buff, she’d dismissed the subject.

My cousin Claude had been welcoming all sorts of displaced fae to Hooligans since the portals to Faery had been shut by my great­-grandfather Niall. He’d shut the portals on an impulse, a sudden reversal of his previous policy that human and fae should mix freely. Not all the fairies and other fae living in our world had had time to get on the Faery side before the portals closed. A very small one, located in the woods behind my house, remained open a crack. From time to time, news passed through.

When they’d thought they were alone, Claude and my great-uncle Dermot had come to my house to take comfort in my company because of my dab of fairy blood. Being in exile was terrible for them. As much as they had previously enjoyed the human world, they now yearned for home.

Gradually, other fae had begun showing up at Hooligans. Dermot and Claude, especially Claude, didn’t stay with me as regularly. That solved a lot of problems for me-Eric couldn’t stay over if the two fair­ ies were in the house because the smell of fairy is simply intoxicating to vampires-but I did occasionally miss Great-Uncle Dermot, who’d always been comfortable company for me.

As I was thinking of him, I spotted Dermot behind the bar. Though he was my fairy grandfather’s brother, he looked no older than his late twenties.

“Sookie, there’s your cousin,” Holly said. “I haven’t seen him since Tara’s shower. Oh my God, he looks so much like Jason!”

“The family resemblance is real strong;’ I agreed. I glanced over at Jason’s girlfriend, who was not any kind of pleased at seeing Dermot. She’d met Dermot before when he’d been cursed with insanity. Though she knew he was in his right mind these days, she wasn’t going to warm up to him in any kind of hurry.

“I never have figured out how you’re kin to them,” Holly said. In Bon Temps everybody knew who your people were and who you were connected to.

“Someone was illegitimate,” I said delicately. “Not saying any more. I didn’t find out until after Gran passed, from some old family papers.”

Holly looked wise, which was kind of a stretch for her.

“Does having an ‘in’ with the management mean we’re going to get a freebie drink or something?” Kennedy asked. “Maybe a lap dance on the house?”

“Girl, you don’t want a lap dance from a stripper!” Tara said. “You don’t know where that thing has been!”

“You’re just all sour-grapey because you don’t have a lap anymore;’ Kennedy muttered, and I gave her a meaningful glare. Tara was super­-sensitive about losing her figure.

I said, “Hey, we already got a reserved table right by the stage. Let’s not push it by asking for anything else.”

Luckily, our drinks arrived then. We tipped Gift lavishly.

“Yum,” Kennedy said after a big sip. “That is one wicked appletini.” As if that had been a signal, the house lights went down, the stage lights popped on, music began to play, and Claude came prancing out
in spangled silver tights and boots, and nothing else.

“Good God, Sookie, he looks edible!” Holly said, and her words flew straight to Claude’s sharp fairy ears. (He’d had the points surgi­ cally removed so he wouldn’t have to expend energy looking human, but the procedure hadn’t affected his hearing.) Claude looked over at our table, and when he spotted me, he grinned. He twitched his butt so that his spangles flew out and caught the light, and the women crammed into the club began clapping, full of anticipation.

“Ladies,” Claude said into the microphone, “Are you ready to enjoy Hooligans? Are you ready to watch some amazing men show you what they’re made of?” He let his hand stroke his admirable abs and raised
one eyebrow, managing to look incredibly sexy and incredibly suggestive in two simple moves.

The music escalated, and the crowd shrieked. Even the heavily pregnant Tara joined in the chorus of enthusiasm as a line of men danced out on the stage behind Claude. One of them was wearing a policeman’s uniform (if cops ever decided to put glitter on their pants), one was wearing a leather outfit, one was dressed as an angel-yes, with wings! And the last one in the row was …

There was a sudden and total silence at our table. All of us sat with our eyes straight ahead, not daring to steal a look at Tara.

The last stripper was her husband, JB du Rone. He was dressed as a construction worker. He wore a hard hat, a safety vest, fake blue jeans, and a heavy tool belt. Instead of wrenches and screwdrivers, the belt loops held handy items like a cocktail shaker, a pair of furry hand­ cuffs, and a few things I simply couldn’t identify.

It was painfully obvious that Tara had had no clue.

Of all the “oh shit” moments in my life, this was OSM Number One. The whole party from Bon Temps sat frozen as Claude introduced the performers by their stripper names (]B was “Randy”). One of us had to break the silence. Suddenly, I saw a light at the end of the con­ versational tunnel.

“Oh, Tara,” I said, as earnestly as anyone ever could speak. “This is so sweet.”
The other women turned to me simultaneously, their faces desper­ ate with hope that I might show them how to spackle over this awful moment. Though I could hear Tara thinking she would like to take JB to the deer processing plant and tell the butcher to make him into ground meat, I plunged in.

“You know he’s doing this for you and the babies;’ I said, injecting my voice with every drop of sincerity I could muster. I leaned closer and took her hand. I wanted to be sure she heard me over the booming music. “You know he meant the extra money as a big surprise for you.”

“Well,” she said through stiff lips, “‘I’m plenty surprised.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Kennedy closing her eyes in gratitude for the cue. I could feel the relief pouring from Holly’s mind. Michele relaxed visibly. Now that the other women had a path to fol­ low, they all fell into step. Kennedy told a very credible story about JB’s last visit to Merlotte’s, a visit in which he’d told her how worried he was about paying the medical bills.

“With twins coming, he was scared that might mean more time in the hospital,” Kennedy said. She was making up most of this, but it sounded good. During her career as a beauty queen (and before her career as a convicted felon), Kennedy had mastered sincerity.

Tara finally seemed to relax just a smidgen, but I monitored her thoughts so we could stay on top of the situation. She didn’t want to draw any more attention to our table by demanding we all walk out, which had been her first impulse. When Holly hesitantly mentioned leaving if Tara was too uncomfortable to stay, Tara fixed us all in turn with a grim stare. “Hell, no,” she said.

Thank God drink refills came then, and the baskets of food soon after. We all tried hard to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and we were doing pretty well by the time the music started pumping “Touch My Nightstick” to announce the arrival of the “policeman.”
The performer was a full-blooded fairy; a little too thin for my taste, but he was real good-looking. You won’t find an ugly fairy. And he could actually dance, and he really enjoyed the exercise. Every inch of gradually revealed flesh was just as toned and tempting as it could be. “Dirk” had a fantastic sense of rhythm, and he seemed to be enjoy­ ing himself. He was basking in the lust, the excitement of being the focus of attention. Were all the fae as vain as Claude, as conscious of their own beauty?

“Dirk” gyrated his sexy way around the stage, and a shocking number of dollar bills were stuffed into the little man-thong that had grad­ ually become his only garment. It was clear that Dirk was generously endowed by nature and that he was enjoying the attention. Every now and then someone bold would give him a little rub, but Dirk would pull back and shake his finger at the miscreant.

“Eww,” Kennedy said the first time that happened, and I had to echo her sentiment. But Dirk was tolerant if not encouraging. He gave an especially generous donor a quick kiss, which made the hollering rise to a crescendo. I’m good at estimating tips, but I could not even begin to guess how much Dirk had made by the time he left the stage-especially since he’d been handing off handfuls of bills to Der­ mot at intervals. The routine came to an end perfectly in time with the music, and Dirk took his bow and ran off the stage.

In a very short time, the stripper pulled on his glittery policeman pants (though nothing else) and came out to wander through the crowd, smiling and nodding as women offered him drinks, phone numbers, and yet more cash. Dirk took only a sip of the drinks, accepted the phone numbers with a charming smile, and tucked the money in his waistband until he seemed to be wearing a green belt.
Though this kind of entertainment wasn’t something I’d want to experience on a regular basis, I honestly couldn’t see the harm. Women were getting to shout and scream and get rowdy in a controlled envi­ ronment. They were obviously having a great time. Even if some of these women were enthralled enough to come every week (a lot of brains were telling me a lot of things), well, it was only one night. The ladies weren’t aware they were cheering for elves and fairies, true; but I was sure they were happier not knowing that (besides JB’s) the flesh and skill they were so admiring wasn’t human.

The other performers were more of the same. The angel, “Gabriel,” was anything but angelic, and fluttering white feathers drifted through the air as he apparently divested himself of his wings (I was sure they were still there but invisible), and nearly every other stitch he’d worn, to “Your Heavenly Body.” Like the policeman, he was in wonderful shape and apparently well endowed. He was also shaved smooth as a baby’s bottom, though it was hard to think of him in the same sen­ tence as the word “baby.” Women grabbed for the floating feathers and the creature who’d worn them.

When Gabriel came out into the audience-wings again apparent, sporting only a white monokini-Kennedy seized him when he hap­ pened by our table. Kennedy was losing what few inhibitions she had as her drinks kept vanishing. The angel gazed at Kennedy with glow­ ing golden eyes- at least, that was what I saw. Kennedy gave him her business card and a lopsided leer, running her palm down his abs. As he turned away from her, I gently inserted a five-dollar bill in his fin­ gers, taking Kennedy’s card away as Idid so. The golden eyes met mme.

“Sister,” he said. Even through the noise of the next performer’s entrance, I could hear his voice.

He smiled and drifted away, to my great relief I hastily concealed Kennedy’s card in my purse. I gave a mental eye-roll at the concept of a part-time bartender having a business card; that was so Kennedy.

Tara had at least not been having a horrible time during the evening, but as the moment approached when JB would certainly be taking the stage, the tension inevitably ratcheted up at our table. From the moment he leaped to center stage and began dancing to “Nail­ Gun Ned,” it was obvious that he didn’t know his wife was in the audience. (JB’s mind is like an open book with maybe two words per page.) His dance routine was surprisingly polished. I sure hadn’t known how flexible JB could be. We Bon Temps ladies tried hard not to let our eyes meet.

“Randy” was simply having a great time. By the time he stripped down to his man-thong, everyone-almost everyone-was sharing his elation, as the number of bills he collected bore witness. I could read directly from JB’s head that this adulation was feeding a great need. His wife, tired and pregnant, no longer glowed with pleasure every time she saw him naked. JB was so used to receiving approval that he craved it-however he could get it.

Tara had muttered something and left the table just as her hus­ band came on, so he didn’t see her when he danced across the stage close to us. The moment he was near enough to realize who we were, a shade of concern passed over his handsome face. He was entertainer enough to keep on going, to my relief I actually felt a bit proud of JB. Even in the arctic air-conditioning, he was sweating with his gyra­ tions. He was vigorous, athletic, and sexy. We all watched anxiously to make sure he was getting just as many tips as the other performers, though we felt a bit delicate about contributing ourselves.

After JB left the stage, Tara returned to the table. She sat down and looked at us with the strangest expression on her face. “I was watching from the back of the room,” she admitted, as we all waited in suspense. “He did pretty good.”

We exhaled, practically in unison.

“Honey he was really, really good,” Kennedy said, nodding emphatically enough to make her chestnut hair swing back and forth.

“You’re a lucky woman,” Michele chimed in. ”And your babies are going to be so gorgeous and coordinated.”

We didn’t know how much was too much to say, and we were all relieved when a loud chorus of “Born to Ride Rough” announced the performance of the guy in leather. He was at least part demon, of a stock I hadn’t encountered before; his skin was reddish, which my com­ panions interpreted as Native American. (It didn’t look anything like that to my eyes, but I wasn’t going to say any different.) He did have black, straight hair and dark eyes, and he knew how to shake his toma­ hawk. His nipples were pierced, which was not my special turn-on, but it was a popular touch with many members of the audience.

I clapped and I smiled, but in truth I was beginning to feel a little bored. Though Eric had I had not been on the same emotional wave­ length lately, we had been operating very well with regard to sex (don’t ask me how this could be so). I began to think I was spoiled. There was no such thing as boring sex with Eric.

I wondered if he’d dance for me, if I asked him nicely. I was having a very pleasant fantasy about that when Claude reemerged on the stage, still in his spangled tights and boots.

Claude was completely confident that the whole room could hardly wait to see more of him, and that kind of confidence pays off He was also incredibly limber and flexible.

“Oh my God!” Michele said, her husky voice almost breaking. “Well! He hardly needs a partner, does he?”

“Wow.” Holly’s mouth was hanging open.

Even I, who had already seen the whole package and knew how disagreeable Claude could be- even I was feeling a jolt of excitement down where I shouldn’t. Claude’s pleasure in receiving all this attention and admiration was almost blissful in its purity.

For the grand finale of the evening, Claude leaped off the stage and danced through the crowd in his man-thong. Everyone seemed determined to unload all their remaining dollar bills-and their fives and a few tens. Claude distributed kisses with abandon, but he dodged more personal touches with an agility that almost betrayed him as other-than-human. When he approached our table, Michele tucked a five under his G-string, saying, “You earned this, buddy,” and Claude’s smile glinted back at hers. Then Claude paused beside me and bent to kiss me on the cheek. I jumped. The women at the surrounding tables shrieked and demanded their own kisses. I was left with the glow in his dark eyes and the unexpected chill left by the touch of his lips.

I was ready to leave a big tip for Gift and get out of there.

Tara drove back, since Michele said she was too tipsy. I knew Tara was glad to have an excuse to be silent. The other women were provid­ ing cover chatter about the fun they’d had, trying to give Tara space to come to terms with the events of the evening.

“I hope I didn’t enjoy it too much,” Holly was saying. ‘Td hate it if Hoyt went to a strip club all the time.”

“Would you mind it if he went once?” I asked.

“Well, I wouldn’t like it,” she said honestly. “But if he was going because he was invited to a stag party or something, I wouldn’t kick up a fuss about it.”

“I would hate it if Jason went,” Michele said.

“Do you think he’d cheat on you with a stripper?” Kennedy asked. I was sure it was the liquor talking.

“If he did, he’d be out the door with a black eye,” Michele said with a derisive snort. After a moment she said in a milder voice, ”I’m a little older than Jason, and maybe my body isn’t quite what it used to be. I look great naked, don’t get me wrong. But probably not as great as the younger strippers.”

“Men are never happy with what they’ve got, no matter how good it is,” Kennedy muttered.

“What’s up with you, girl? You and Danny have a fight over another woman?” Tara asked bluntly.

Kennedy turned a bright, hard look on Tara, and for a minute I thought she’d say something cutting. Then we’d have an open quar­ rel. But Kennedy said, “He’s doing something secret, and he won’t tell me what. He says he’s gonna be gone on Monday/Wednesday/Friday mornings and evenings. He won’t say where he’s going or why.”

Since the fact that Danny was totally smitten with Kennedy was obvious to the dimmest bulb, we were all struck silent with astonish­ ment at her blindness.

“Did you ask him?” Michele said, in her forthright way.

“Hell, no!” Kennedy was too proud (and too scared, but only I knew that) to ask Danny directly.

“Well, I don’t know who to ask or what to ask, but if I hear anything, I’ll tell you. I really don’t think you need to worry about Danny stepping out on you,” I said. How such massive insecurity could lurk behind such a pretty face was amazing to me.

“Thanks, Sookie.” There was a little sob in her voice. Oh, Lord. All the fun of the evening was draining away in a hurry.

We pulled up at the front of my house none too soon. I said my good-byes and my thank-yous in my brightest and most cheerful voice, and then I was hurrying to my front door. Of course the big security light was on, and of course Tara didn’t back out until I’d reached my front door, unlocked it, and stepped inside. I locked the door behind me instantly. Though there were magical wards around the house to keep supernatural enemies away, locks and keys never hurt.

Not only had I worked today, I’d endured the raucous crowd and the pulse-pounding music, and there was all the drama with my friends, too. If you’re telepathic, your brain gets exhausted. But in a contradic­ tory way, I felt too twitchy and restless to head directly to my bed­ room. I decided to check my e-mail.

It had been a couple of days since I’d had a chance to sit down at the computer. I had ten messages. Two were from Kennedy and Holly, setting a time to pick me up. Since that was a done deal, I tapped the Delete button. The next three were ads. Those were gone in a flash. There was a note from Amelia with an attachment, which proved to be a picture of her and her boyfriend, Bob, sitting at a cafe in Paris. “We’re having a good time;’ she wrote. “The community over here is very welcoming. Think my little problem with my NO community has been forgiven. What about you and me?”

“Community” was Amelia’s code word for “coven.” Amelia’s little problem had arisen when she’d accidentally turned Bob into a cat. Now that he was a man again, they’d resumed their relationship.

Go figure. And now Paris! “Some people just lead charmed lives,” I said out loud. As for Amelia and me being “okay”-she’d offended me deeply by try­ ing to shove Aleide Herveaux into my sex life. I’d expected better from her. No, I hadn’t entirely forgiven her, but I was trying.

At that moment there was a quiet knock on the front door. I jumped and spun around in the swivel chair. I hadn’t heard a vehicle, or foot­ steps. Normally, that would mean a vampire had come calling; but when I cast out my extra sense, the brain it encountered was not the blank of a vampire’s, but something else entirely.

There was another discreet knock. I edged to the window and looked out. Then I unlocked the door and flung it open.

“Great-grandfather;’ I said, and leaped up and into his embrace. “I thought I’d never see you again! How are you? Come in!”

Niall smelled wonderful-fairies do. To some extra-sensitive vam­ pire noses, I have a faint trace of the same odor, though I can’t detect it myself.

My ex-boyfriend Bill had told me once that to him the fae smelled like his memory of the taste of apples.

Enveloped in my great-grandfather’s overwhelming presence, I experienced the rush of affection and amazement I always did when I was with him. Tall and regal, clad in an immaculate black suit, white shirt, and black tie, Niall was both beautiful and ancient.

He was also a dab unreliable when it came to facts. Tradition says fairies can’t lie, and the fairies themselves will tell you so-but they sure skirt the truth when it suits them. Sometimes I thought that Niall had lived for so long that his memory simply skipped a beat or two. It was a struggle to remember this when I was with him, but I forced myself to keep it in my mind.

“‘I’m well, as you see.” He gestured at his magnificence, though to do him credit I believe he simply intended to draw my attention to his unwounded state. ”And you are beautiful, as always.”

Fairies are also somewhat flowery in their speech-unless they’ve been living among humans for a long time, like Claude.

“I thought you were sealed off.”

“I widened the portal in your woods,” he said, as if the action had been a casual whim ofhis. After the big deal he’d made about sealing the fae in for the protection of humanity, severing all his business ties with the human world, and so on, he’d enlarged an opening and come through … because he wanted to check on my well-being? Even the fondest great-granddaughter could smell a rat.

“I knew that portal was there,” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

He cocked his head. His white-blond hair moved like a satin cur­tain. “Was it you who put the body in?”

”I’m sorry. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put it.” Corpse dis­posal was not one of my talents.

“It was consumed entirely, if that was your purpose. Please abstain in the future. We don’t want there to be crowding around the portal,” he said in gentle admonishment, rather as though I’d been feeding pets from the dinner table.

“Sorry,” I said. “So-why are you here?” I heard the bluntness of my words and felt myself turning red. “I mean, to what do I owe the honor of your visit? Can I get you a drink or something to eat?”

“No thank you, dearest. Where have you been this evening? You smell of the fae and humans and many other things.”

I took a deep breath and tried to explain Ladies Only night at Hooligans. With every sentence, I felt more of a fool. You should have seen Niall’s face when I told him that one night a week, human women paid to watch men take their clothes off He sure didn’t get it.

“Do men do this also?” he asked. “Go in groups to special build­ings, pay to watch women undress?”

I said, “Yes, men much more often than women. The other nights, that’s what happens at Hooligans.”

“And Claude makes money this way,” Niall said wonderingly.

“Why don’t the men just ask the women to take their clothes off, if they want to see their bodies?”

I took another deep breath but let it out without attempting further explanation. Some topics were just too complicated to tackle, especially with a fairy who’d never lived in our world. Niall was a tourist, not a resident. “Can we bypass this whole discussion until another time, or maybe until never? Surely there’s something more important you want to talk about?” I said.

“Of course. May I sit?”

“Be my guest.” We sat on the couch, angled forward so we were looking into each other’s faces. There’s nothing like having a fairy exam­ ine you to make you acutely aware of your every flaw.

“You’ve recovered well,” he said, to my surprise.

“I have,” I said, trying not to glance down, as if my scarred thigh would show through my clothing.

“It took a while.” Niall meant I looked good for someone who’d been tortured. Two notorious fairies who’d had their teeth sharpened like the elves’ had left me with some permanent physical damage. Niall and Bill had arrived in time to save my body parts and my sanity, if not all of my actual flesh.

“Thanks for coming in time,” I said, forcing a smile on my face. “‘I’ll never forget how glad I was to see you-all.”

Niall waved away my gratitude. “You are my blood,” he said. That was reason enough for him. I thought about my great-uncle Dermot, Niall’s half-human son, who believed Niall had cast a crazy spell on him. Kind of contradictory, huh? I almost pointed that out to Great­ Grandfather, but I did want to keep the peace since I hadn’t seen him in so long.

“When I came through the portal tonight, I smelled blood in the ground around your house,” he said abruptly. “Human blood, fae blood. Now I can tell there is fae blood upstairs in your attic, recently spilled. And fairies are living here now. Who?” Niall’s smooth hands took mine, and I felt a flush of well-being.

“Claude and Dermot have been living here, kind of off and on,” I said. “When Eric stays over, they spend the night in Claude’s house in Monroe.”

Niall looked very, very thoughtful. “What reason did Claude give you for wanting to be in your house? Why did you permit this? Have you had sex with him?” He didn’t sound angry or distressed, but the questions themselves had a certain edge.

“I don’t have sex with relatives, first off;’ I said, an edge to my own voice. My boss, Sam Merlotte, had told me that the fae didn’t necessar­ ily consider such relationships taboo, but I sure did. I took yet another deep breath. I would hyperventilate if Niall stayed very long.

I tried again, this time making an effort to modify my indigna­ tion. “Sex between relatives is not something humans condone,” I told him, making myself stop right there before adding any codicils.

“I have slept in the same bed with Dermot and Claude, because they told me that would make them feel better. And I admit it helped me, too. They both seem kind of lost, since they’re not able to enter Faery. A bunch of the fae got left outside, and they’re pretty miserable.” I did my best not to sound reproachful, but Hooligans was like Ellis Island in lockdown.

Niall was not going to be diverted. “Of course Claude would want to be close to you,” he said. “The company of others with fairy blood is always desirable. Did you suspect … he had any other reason?”
Was this a hint, or just a simple hesitation in Niall’s speech? As a matter of fact, I did think the two fairies had another reason for their attraction to me and my house, but I thought-I hoped-this reason was quite unconscious. This was a chance to unburden myself of a great secret and gain more information about an object I had in my possession. I opened my mouth to tell Niall about what I’d found in a secret compartment in an old desk.

But the sense of caution I’d developed in my life as a telepath … well, that sense jumped up and down, screaming, “Shut up!”

I said, “Do you think they had another reason?”

I noticed Niall had mentioned only his full-fairy grandson, Claude, not his half-human son Dermot. Since Niall had always acted very lovingly toward me, and my blood had only a trace of fairy, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t equally loving toward Dermot. Dermot had done some bad things, but he’d been under a spell. Niall wasn’t cut­ ting him any slack for that. Just at the moment, Niall was looking at me doubtfully, his head cocked to one side.

My cheeks yanked up in my brightest smile. I felt increasingly uneasy. “Claude and Dermot have been real helpers. They carried down all the old stuff in the attic. I sold it to an antiques dealer in Shreve­ port.” Niall smiled back at me and stood. Before I could say Jack Robinson, he’d glided up the stairs. He came back down them a couple of minutes later. I spent the time sitting there with my mouth hang­ ing open. Even for a fairy, this was odd behavior. “I guess you were up there sniffing Dermot’s blood?” I said warily.

“I can tell I have irritated you, dearest.” Niall smiled at me, and his beauty warmed me. “Why was there bleeding in the attic?”

Niall didn’t even use the pronoun “he.” I said, ”A human came in looking for me. Dermot was working and didn’t hear him coming. The human clocked him one. Hit him on the head,” I explained, when Niall looked confused.

“Is that the human whose blood I smelled outside in the ground?”

There’d been so many. Vampires and humans, Weres and fairies.

I actually had to think a minute. “Could be,” I said at last. “Bellenos healed Dermot, and they caught the guys …” I fell silent. At the mention of Bellenos’s name, Niall’s eyes flashed, and not with joy.

“Bellenos, the elf,” he said.


His head turned sharply, and I knew he’d heard something I hadn’t.

We’d been too involved in our conversation to hear a car on the driveway, apparently; but Niall had heard the key in the lock.

“Cousin, did you enjoy the show?” Claude called from the kitchen, and I had time to think, Another OSM, before Claude and Dermot walked into the living room.

There was a frozen silence. The three fairies were looking back and forth like gunfighters at the OK Corral. Each one waited for the other to make some decisive gesture that would determine whether they fought or talked.

“My house, my rules;’ I said, and shot up from the couch like someone had lit my ass on fire. “No brawling! Not! Any!”

There was another beat of the tense silence, and then Claude said, “Of course not, Sookie. Prince Niall-Grandfather-I had feared I’d never see you again.”

“Claude,” Niall said, nodding at his grandson. “Hello, Father;’ said Dermot very quietly. Niall didn’t look at his child.


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