I locked the door of the bar and made my way back to Sam's office. I was exhausted. There was a lot more to running a bar than I ever knew. Sam trusted the place to me when he left to see his mother after his step-father shot her on the night of the big reveal. That was over a week ago. Since then, she'd had three surgeries and was still in the hospital. Sam had called that morning and asked if I could hold down the fort just a bit longer. His hands were full with his mom, not to mention his step-dad's feelings of guilt and the police involvement in the shooting. I told him it was no problem. I owe Sam. He's been a good boss and a better friend for seven years now.

I sat down at Sam's desk and powered up the computer. The food order for next week needed to be in tomorrow. I glanced at the clock.; just past 2 a.m. If I had a computer at home, I could catch a few winks and then work on it. But I didn't. No wonder Sam lived in a trailer behind the bar. That gave me a thought. I could sleep in the trailer for a bit, then work on the orders with a fresh mind. Sam wouldn't care. There was no one at home to worry about me. Ameila had taken off for a few days with Tray and Octavia was in New Orleans at some kind of witches' meeting.

There was no man waiting for me, either, as I was currently unattached. There was the small matter of a blood bond with a certain Viking vampire, but since he'd made no effort to talk to me in over two weeks, I wasn't getting my panties in a wad over him. Bill, my ex-boyfriend and current next door neighbor, might be watching the house for my return, but he'd been in the bar earlier, as he had been every night this week, offering to see me home. I'd told him I had work to do after closing. It was nice of him to offer. Bill is chivalrous that way, worrying about a woman alone after dark. He ought to know. He's a vampire, too. Of course, he'd hurt me more than any attacker could have when he revealed that he had seduced me on assignment from his Queen. But she was out of the picture now, and there was a lot of water under that bridge. I didn't have the energy or the desire to stay that angry at him any longer.

I found the key to the trailer on the key ring Sam kept by the back door. I flipped the switch for the security light in back. Nothing. Crap. The bulb must be burned out . Oh well. I picked up the flashlight Sam kept on the shelf and found my way into the trailer. Not even removing my shoes, I collapsed on the bed, pulling an old quilt over me and fell into sleep immediately.

I awoke to the sound of the door being ripped from its frame and the smell of smoke.

"Sookie! Thank God!" Bill threw the trailer door aside and scooped me up in his arms, moving with vampire speed out into the parking lot.

"Put me down! Put me down! What are you doing?" I coughed as smoky air filled my throat and lungs. Bill set me gently down on my feet. Still disoriented, I stood there stupidly staring at him until the view over his shoulder came into focus. The bar was in flames.

"Oh my God! Bill! Call 911!"

"Sookie, I did." He said calmly. "They're on their way."

The words weren't even out of his mouth when three fire engines came screaming into the parking lot. JB duRone, a high school friend now married to my friend Tara, hopped out of the cab of one. He looked different in his gear. JB had never been the best student, but he'd found his niche. Here he was confident and in charge.

"Anyone inside?"

"No. No." I shook my head.


"He's out of town."

"Let's go!" Another fireman called. They pulled out hoses and axes and ran toward the building

In less than an hour it was over. Merlotte's was a smoking skeleton.

Bill put his arm around my shoulders. For the first time in a long while, I didn't shrug him away. "Sookie. Let me take you home."

"No." I insisted. "I need to stay here."

J.B. approached, his face covered with soot. "You might as well go. The fire is mostly out, but you can't go in yet anyway. We'll stay here and watch to be sure there aren't any hot spots that could flame back up. You can assess the damage tomorrow. Don't worry about your car. Someone will drop it off."

"How am I going to tell Sam?" I moaned.

"We'll call him from the house." Bill said. "Come on now." He led me to his car, opening the passenger door. I slid in wordlessly, too tired and overcome to argue. As he drove down the dark road toward home, all I could think of was Sam. The bar was his life's work. He would be devastated. Sam's trailer was pretty much gone, too and if Bill hadn't shown up I would probably be taking another trip to the hospital, or worse. A thought occurred to me.


"Yes," he answered, never taking his eyes from the road. Bill was a careful driver,. Not always the case with vampires.

"How did you know about the fire? How did you find me?"

He didn't speak. The silence was telling.

"Were you watching me?" I didn't know whether to be comforted or appalled.

"Not really. I roam at night. You know that." He sighed. "Sam might have asked me to check every so often to be sure you were safe. Turns out, you weren't."

I suppose I should be glad he had been there. I was. But the last thing I needed was a keeper. Bill seemed to sense my distress.

"After all the publicity with the Shifter's reveal, Sam asked me to hang around in case there was trouble. I don't make it a habit of following you. But I had a strange feeling tonight and I came back to the bar. Luckily." He added.

"I wonder how it started? I thought I checked everything in the kitchen. I was so careful." I began to cry. "What will Sam do? How can I ever tell him?"

We pulled into the driveway and I realized I'd left my purse in the bar. Twenty-eight dollars, my checkbook, driver's licence, and my two credit cards were probably ashes. I fished the hidden key from under a loose board in the porch, not caring if Bill saw where it was. I could always recind his invitation if it came to that. I held the door open and he followed me inside.

The answering machine light was flashing. "You have two new messages." The tinny voice proclaimed.

"Sookie. We should talk I will pay you a visit soon. Perhaps tomorrow.." Eric. Impeccable timing as usual. As if he didn't know where to find me if he'd wanted to talk to a real person instead of my machine. I pressed delete.

"Second message: " the machine intoned. Yeah, yeah, I can count.

"Sookie. It's Sam. The bar must be busy 'cause no one answered the phone. I'm still at the hospital. Mom's had some complications from the last surgery. Call me on my cell if you need me."

I sighed and sunk down on the couch, the phone still in my hand. "Well," I said to myself more than Bill. "There's no time like the present." Bill sat next to me, leaving some space between us, but letting me know he was there. I dialed Sam's cell phone number.

"Sookie?" He answered. "What is it?" Somehow he knew immediately that something was wrong. Maybe because I don't make a habit of calling at five in the morning. "Sookie?" He said again.

I managed to choke out. "Sam. Oh Sam." Before the tears came again and I lost my voice completely. Bill took the phone from my hand.

"Sam? It's Bill. No, no, Sookie is fine. She's fine. It's the bar. Sam, there's been a fire."

I could only hear Bill's end of the conversation and that was mostly "yes", "no", and "I don't know." Finally I had recovered enough to speak and I held out my hand for the phone.

"Here she is." Bill told Sam.

"I am so sorry Sam." My voice broke again. "I'm so sorry."

"It's not your fault Cher. Aw. Sookie don't cry." He said. "It'll be alright. I've got insurance and we'll rebuild." He was babbling now, the way people do when there's nothing to say. "The place will be as good as new. Better."

"What should I do?" I needed some course of action, something to make me feel also registered in the back of my mind that I was out of a job, at least temporarily.

"I gave Bill the name of my insurance agent. If you could call him tomorrow, well, I guess that would be today, I'd appreciate it. I'm going to check on flights back. Mom's doing better and the police said there won't be any charges, so Al can be with her. I should be there by tonight, tomorrow at the latest."

"Okay." I sniffed.

"Sookie, this is not your fault." Sam insisted. "Get some sleep. Call me later."

"Okay. Bye." I hung up the phone and sank deeper into the couch. Before I knew he had left, Bill was back with a glass of water and two aspirin. I accepted both gratefully. My throat was scratchy and dry from the smoke and my head was beginning to pound. I also noticed that I smelled awful.

"Do you want me to stay?" Bill asked.

"No, I'm just going to take a shower and try to sleep for a few hours. It's almost dawn. You should go."

"As long as you're alright."

"I will be." I gave him my best impression of a smile.

I walked him to the door. "Thank you." I said. "For being there tonight and bringing me home."

"I am always at your service." He gave a little bow. On impulse I reached forward and hugged him. He stood terribly still for a moment, not sure what to do, then his arms came around and hugged me back. "May I check in on you tonight?"

"That would be nice." I said. And meant it.