Disclaimer: Everything is Charlaine's. Much of the dialogue is straight from the books.

* * *

At first he barely registered the blonde who entered Fangtasia that night with Bill Compton; he had seen blondes before, had sucked and fucked more than his fair share, and had his pick of them every night. This evening was too tedious – and his mind too full of other things – to warrant the notice of yet another yellow-haired human woman.

"Did you look at Bill's new pet?" Pam asked.

Eric made a motion with his hand, an acknowledgment and dismissal in one.

"Well, I'd have her," said Pam. She was quiet a moment, during which time she casually kicked away a would-be admirer. He was vaguely aware of refusing a few advances himself. "Why are you so quiet and boring tonight?"

He said nothing, but his eyes rested on Bill's human again, and he realized that something was different about the woman. She was obviously human, but there was something else…

Bill had evidently noticed that Eric's interest was piqued, because he and his partner rose and approached. Eric furrowed his brows as they came closer, trying to discern something – anything – special about the woman, but he quickly rearranged his features into something more pleasant when he realized that the woman was watching him with apprehension. Bill stopped several feet away from the table, holding the woman back with him, and Eric wondered at this with amusement. Surely Bill couldn't be that insecure about introducing his companion to Eric and Pam?

"Bill," he said by way of greeting the younger vampire, then turned his eyes back to the woman.

She was certainly attractive, with shiny hair, that Southern-girl tan, and a figure that could only be called luscious. Her breasts alone… But there was also a sweetness about her, in the way she had chosen such sexy clothes – that tight dress, those sinful red shoes – that only screamed innocence. The flower pattern, the matching red purse. Wearing white to Fangtasia, for fuck's sake. Yes, he mentally agreed with Pam, I'd have her.

It was Pam who spoke next: "Who's your friend?" Eric could hear the lust in her voice, and he smiled. Pam had good taste, and she had never been subtle. He had taught her well in both respects.

"Hi, I'm Sookie Stackhouse," the woman replied. Her drawl was charming, and she spoke as if she were addressing people at her mother's garden party, rather than two ancient vampires.

He liked her already.

"Aren't you sweet?" he said, in what he hoped was a good imitation of a garden party guest.

"Not especially." She held her chin up and looked wary – much more appropriate, considering the present company.

Eric gave a genuine laugh, surprising himself. Yes, he liked her very much. And he wouldn't mind snatching her from Bill right here and now, taking her to his office, and having his way with her.

Instead, he matched her politeness with his own. "Sookie, this is Pam, and I am Eric."

He waited for her to respond, but she said nothing, so he looked at Bill expectantly.

"My friend Sookie would like to ask a couple of questions."

Friend! Eric restrained himself from smirking and looked at Pam to see if she appreciated this as much as he did.

Pam only looked annoyed. "Like how long are our fangs, and what kind of coffin do we sleep in?"

Eric returned his gaze to Sookie, already knowing that these were not her questions; if they were, she would have asked Bill already. And she didn't look or act like another fangbanger.

"No, ma'am," she said calmly.

Ah, she was back at the garden party. Her politeness was both strange and welcomed. Then he realized that she wasn't treating them like garden party guests, but simply like regular people who deserved politeness. Either that, or Bill had warned her (he couldn't help but notice how tightly Bill gripped Sookie's arm), and she was cowed in their presence. Maybe a bit of both, but Eric preferred to think it was the former.

He watched as Sookie withdrew two photographs from her purse and held them out to him and Pam. "I'd like to know if you've seen either of these women in this bar," she said.

She was straight-forward and frank, and Eric liked her all the more. He decided he would oblige this strange creature, and he looked at the photographs. One was a stranger to him, but the other… He remembered how she had begged him to slap her as he bent her over his desk. He looked up and met Sookie's eyes evenly, matching her frankness with his own.

"I have been with this one. She liked pain."

Sookie blinked, swallowed – he watched the movement of her lovely throat – and turned to Pam.

"I have seen both of them," Pam said nonchalantly. "I have never been with them. This one was a pathetic creature." She had pointed to the picture of the woman Eric did not know.

Two pathetic fangbangers, then. Why should they arouse the interest of this Stookie Stackhouse, who was obviously a thing apart?

"Thank you very much," Sookie said. She looked at him. "That's all of your time I need to take." All politeness, this delicious Southern belle.

He was about to tell her that she could have as much time as she liked, but she had already turned. Bill, however, was stopping her. He certainly was concerned about his "friend."

"Bill, are you quite attached to your friend?" Eric smiled as he emphasized the last word, knowing that he was pushing Bill to an admission of his real relationship with Sookie. Eric was certainly keen to know, especially if there was any possibility of taking her for himself.

Bill did not disappoint. "She is mine," he said in a voice that brooked no contradiction.

Eric looked at Sookie again, noticing the fierceness in her eyes. So many things to like. He ran his eyes down her body appreciatively and met her eyes again. He had every intention of making her his, and Bill Compton was hardly in a position to stop him.

Bill bowed and led Sookie away, and Eric's gaze followed her all the way back to their table. He turned and looked at Pam.

"Do you think he's had her?"

"He'd be a fool not to." Pam sipped from her bottle. "I know you want her. I see you trying to hide your fangs."

He turned to her and grinned broadly, showing off the fangs in question, then looked back at Sookie. "There's something strange about her. Did you notice?"

"Well, she certainly doesn't fit in here."

"That, too."

A short time later, Bill rose and headed for the bar. "Pam, go see what you can pry out of him," said Eric, nodding in Bill's direction. She obeyed immediately, as she always did, and Eric returned his attention to Sookie.

Never one to forego a bit of glamour, he concentrated on her face with a heated gaze, willing her to come back to his table. He called to her in a lover's voice, but she only stared at her hands. She wanted to look at him, oh yes; she was concentrating too much energy on not looking up, and for a moment her willpower gave way. She could feel him calling her, yet she resisted. He stopped the magic and frowned.

"He hasn't."

Eric started and turned to Pam as she sat down again. "What?"

"He hasn't slept with her."

"Pam, how crude of you to ask him such a question." They smiled at each other. "Anything else?"

"Nope. It took me long enough to get that out of him. I had to be subtle."

"I can't imagine how much that pained you." Pam glared at him as she sipped from her bottle, and Eric laughed. He became more serious, however, and leaned towards her. "Glamour doesn't work on her."

Pam evidently didn't know what to make of that, so they both sat in silence for a few minutes until Pam finished her drink and sighed. "Back to work. Hey, Long Shadow said he needs some more lemons for the bar, so I'm just gonna head to the store."

Eric nodded with disinterest and barely noticed her departure. Bill was leaning in very close to Sookie, and they seemed to be discussing something intently. He was trying to think of some errand that would effectively get rid of Bill for an hour, when the couple suddenly stood up and headed for him.

Bill gave him an urgent look and nodded towards the door, and Eric didn't need telling twice. He stood and made for the door, taking Celia (she was a good bouncer and was certainly one of his least obnoxious employees) with him.

"There's going to be trouble," he told Celia. "I'll give you a ride home."

"Oh… thanks, Master."

"You can thank me when we get there."

Eric smiled and leaned against his car, jangling his keys as he waited for Bill, Sookie, and an explanation. Bill and Sookie came running out moments later, and Eric raised his eyebrows at Bill, asking the silent question.

"There's going to be a raid."

Eric frowned. "How do you know?" There was a brief silence, and he began to suspect that Sookie had set this up. That explained the sweet dress, the politeness, the oddity…

"Me," she said, confirming his suspicion. He looked at her intently, waiting for her explanation. If she had betrayed him in some way, it would take more than Bill to save her ass, however tempting said ass might be. "I read a policeman's mind."

A psychic. That explained a lot. He felt his fangs running out again as he regarded her, and he remembered a night in New Orleans about two centuries earlier. A mulatto girl with soft skin, enormous eyes, and skilled hands. And in her dress, a stake, with which she had attempted to kill him when it was over. Such a waste.

Eric smiled at her. "That's interesting. I had a psychic once. It was incredible."

"Did the psychic think so?"

Sweet and sassy. Delectable. Eric tilted his head slightly and regarded her, noting with amusement that Bill seemed nervous and over-protective.

"For a while," he answered Sookie with a laugh.

The wail of sirens pierced the quiet, and he nodded to Celia to get in the car. Tonight at her house, in her bed, she would be standing in for Sookie Stackhouse. She probably wouldn't like it if she knew, but she would certainly enjoy the benefits.

* * *

The next several nights were spent dealing with the police in the aftermath of the raid. Did he know illegal activity was being conducted on the premises, and other mindless drivel. He masked his boredom with charm and dealt with it all swiftly. One line of questions, however, interested him in light of Sookie Stackhouse's questions in the bar. The police asked if he knew anything about "women who had been intimate with vampires" being murdered in Bon Temps. That shit finally sorted, his bar back in full swing and raking in money, he took the opportunity to call Bill.


"Yeah?" she asked, walking into his office, hooking in an earring.

"Get Bill on the phone."

"Sure. And hey, that slut with the black hair and peroxide streaks has been asking about you again. She left three messages on the machine today, as if you would rise up from your slumber to call her back. Did you sleep with her or something?"

He glared at her. "I have some standards."

"You'll have to tell me about those some time." She met his glare with an unruffled, saucy look and picked up the phone, tapping her nails as she waited. "Bill, it's Pam." She paused. "Yeah, it's all taken care of. We reopened last night." Another pause. "Uh huh. Yeah, well, Eric wants to speak with you." She held the phone out to Eric, indicated her outfit with the other hand, and asked, "All good?"

"I am here," he said, twirling his finger for Pam to turn around.

"I assume you have some questions for me," said Bill.

"Yes. Naturally, I have questions." Pam raised her eyebrows, and Eric nodded and winked his approval. She gave herself one last look in the mirror and left to enter the bar. "What is this I hear about murders in Bon Temps? I assume this has to do with your friend Sookie and her questions the other night."

"It does," Bill replied coolly.

"Anything I should know? I don't want any more police asking about this in my bar."

"No, I don't think so. The women weren't murdered by vampires, I'm fairly positive."

"Why's that?"

"They hadn't been drained, and from what I understand, the bite marks weren't fresh."

"Good. I have too much to deal with to worry about a couple of dead fangbangers."

"Anything else?" Bill asked, and Eric smiled at his guarded tone.

"Now that you mention it, yes." He savored a long pause, then continued. "Sookie. Tell me about her. How did you discover she was psychic?"

"She's not actually psychic. She's telepathic. And it's a long story."

"I have an eternity, as do you."

"Eric, she's really none of your business. She's my... my girlfriend, and I'm sure she wants nothing to do with that whole world you have going. You'll probably never see her again."

Eric leaned forward in his chair, taking this in. "I will most definitely see her again."

"With every respect due to you, I tell you she's mine."

"While I do acknowledge that I want to fuck your girlfriend, and let's face it, someone has to—" He ignored Bill's growl and went on. "I mean simply that her gift will be useful to us, and I expect to take advantage of it when the need arises. Have you considered that she might want to use her gift?"

"There isn't a great deal of difference between us using her gift and using her." Eric said nothing, waiting. Bill sighed. "Let's talk about this later, when it actually comes up."

"Fair enough. One more question. Does the Queen know about our Miss Stackhouse?"

A long pause. "No."

"That will do for the time being. Bill..."

"What, Eric?"

Eric smiled at the younger vampire's annoyance, then became serious again. "Don't let anything happen to her. I rather like her."

Bill hung up.

* * *

Some time passed before he had occasion to think of Sookie again... that is, to a degree beyond fleeting thoughts and not-so-fleeting sexual fantasies. A little over sixty thousand dollars had gone missing from the bar, according to his and Pam's calculations, and he was (in the local vernacular) not a happy camper.

Eric dialed Bill's number and didn't bother with a preamble when the phone was answered. "Bill, I need Sookie." There was only silence on the other end. "Bill?"

"I heard you."

"Good. I'll be expecting to see you two this—"

"Does she have any choice?" Bill interrupted.

"Of course she has a choice," said Eric calmly. "I cannot say the same for you."

"What does that mean?"

"I think you know."

"Perhaps you could elaborate anyway."

"I need her talent. It shouldn't take a long time. It will cost her nothing. This shouldn't be difficult for you to talk her into, and that is what I expect you to do. If you don't bring her to me, I will assume you weren't convincing enough. Have I been clear?"

"You don't mind if I tell her you threatened her?"

Eric laughed, swinging his legs up onto the desk and reclining in his chair. "Tell her whatever you like, Bill. I need her. Bring her to me tomorrow night."

"Understood. And you understand that she is not to be harmed? If you hurt a hair on her head, your age and position will cease to mean anything to me."

"Is she still yours in word only?" Eric grinned into the stony silence. "Ah, I see. I hope you enjoyed her and gave her as much pleasure as I would have... and intend to." More silence. "I wouldn't dream of harming her. So few humans are both interesting and aesthetically pleasing. And even fewer are polite."

"We'll be there," said Bill.

Eric hung up the phone and leaned back again, crossing his arms behind his head. "Pam?" he called. "Call Bruce and Belinda and Ginger and tell them I want them here tomorrow night. Don't take 'no' for an answer."

"You know I never do," she yelled back.

"Good," he said to himself. He couldn't decide which prospect excited him more: locating his money, punishing the culprit, or savoring the sight and company of his telepathic Southern belle.

* * *

Sookie looked defiant and beautiful in blue jeans that hugged her ass and hips in just the right way, flaring slightly at the bottom over her sandals. The neckline of her blue top left too much to the imagination, but Eric had quite an imagination. Bill hovered near her, as he did the first night they'd come to Fangtasia.

Perhaps a bit of her Southern politeness would take the edge off. Though Eric addressed them both, his smile was for her. "Bill, Sookie." She nodded stiffly, but still said nothing, so he continued. Politely. "Bill, you and Sookie know Long Shadow. Sookie, you remember Pam. And this"—he motioned to the rather pathetic and annoying man seated across the desk—"is Bruce."

Bill sighed and moved closer to Pam and Long Shadow, who occupied one wall of the room, and Sookie seemed inclined to follow him. Either Bill had told her nothing, or she was pretending not to know why she had been summoned.

"Sookie, listen to Bruce," he told her, motioning to the man in question.

She blinked and seemed to be waiting for Bruce to speak, then comprehension dawned on her face. "What exactly am I listening for?"

She still seemed on edge, so he answered her succinctly and calmly. So few humans appreciated the compliment of frankness. Eric didn't really remember being human, but he was fairly sure that even then, he had valued directness.

"Someone has embezzled about sixty thousand dollars from us, and rather than put all our human employees to death or torture, we thought perhaps you would look into their minds and tell us who it was."

During this explanation, Sookie's blue eyes (her top made them seem even bluer) widened, especially at the mention of death and torture. But she took it in with a nod, and self-assurance set into her face. She looked at him directly. "And then what will you do?"

He might have known that this woman, of all humans, would ask that. Her eyebrows were raised in challenge as if she already knew his answer.

"Whoever it is will give our money back." This much was obvious, but Eric knew how to parry with the best of them.

So did Sookie. "And then?"

He met her eyes evenly. If a vampire had been responsible for this, Eric would deal with it according to his own laws. As things stood, however, it looked to be a human, and Fangtasia was much too lucrative to be endangered by the inevitable scandal that would follow the murder of a human.

"Why, if we can produce proof of the crime, we'll turn the culprit over to the police."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "I'll make a deal, Eric."

What a winsome creature she was, offering to make a deal with the devil. He wondered if she would accept a deal that involved her receiving the greatest pleasure of her life if she would give him one night with her. Bill be damned. But tonight, business.

"What would that be, Sookie?" he asked with genuine interest, unable to suppress a grin.

"If you really do turn the guilty person over to the police, I'll do this for you again, whenever you want. Yeah, I know I'd probably have to anyway, but isn't it better if I come willing, if we have good faith with each other?"

Eric lost track of the emotions that must have betrayed themselves across his face during this little speech. I already hold you in good faith, you silly woman, he longed to say—and would have if they were alone. Come into my thoughts now if you don't believe me. I could force you to do my bidding anytime, anywhere, just by threatening Bill or someone else you love. But I'm mainstreaming here. I'm obeying... most... of your human laws. I'm trying to be as honest with you now as a vampire can be with a human. I won't kill anyone if I don't have to.

She spoke again, and the sound of her voice jolted him from his thoughts. "Besides, how sure are you that the thief is a human?"

Eric rose to his feet a split second after Pam and Long Shadow bared their teeth in anger. He held his hand out, halting them, never taking his eyes from Sookie's face. "That's an interesting idea. Pam and Long Shadow are my partners in this bar, and if none of the humans is guilty, I guess we'll have to look at them." The idea of such a betrayal—especially if it were Pam—filled him with rage. Humans didn't know any better. Vampires...

Sookie seemed intimidated by the anger that stifled the room from so many directions. Her voice was quiet, subdued. "Just a thought."

Eric sat down again, impatient to get this over with. "Start now, with this man."

She knelt by Bruce, and Eric's feelings revolted at the idea of her kneeling to such a sad excuse of a person. Sweat rolled down his face and made him even more repulsive than he was usually. Sookie seemed unsure for a moment, took the man's hand, then moved her hand to his wrist, apparently satisfied.

"Did you take the money?" she asked.

Her voice was soft, and Eric wondered what she was thinking. Damn it. Damn her. She was here to listen to the thoughts of others, but the only thoughts he wanted to hear were hers.

Bruce denied taking the money and denied knowing who did.

Sookie stood and faced Eric, looking more confident now that she had begun her work. "Not this guy."

Eric nodded and signaled to Pam, who removed the sniveling Bruce from the room and returned with Ginger. Fuck. He turned away when the slut smiled at him, waiting for Sookie to deal with this one quickly.

"Hey, Sweetie," said Ginger.

He wondered where this woman had gotten the idea that he liked being called "Sweetie," much less by her. He didn't even look at her. "Ginger, answer this woman's questions."

"Yes, Master." He could hear the simper in her voice, and he closed his eyes in annoyance. There was a second of blessed silence, and then Ginger hissed, "Don't touch me!"

Eric turned towards her again with malice in his eyes. "Pam, hold Ginger still." He heard the edge in his own voice, and he looked away again.

"Did you take the money?" Sookie asked.

Ginger screamed, and Eric rolled his eyes to the ceiling, staring at the flat surface as if it could break away and lift, opening up the sky and providing escape. Sookie's voice brought him back to the present.

"She knows who did," said Sookie, speaking over Ginger's sobs. "She can't say the name. He has bitten her." She paused, and Eric watched as she made another attempt to get the name from Ginger's shit-addled brain. "It's some kind of compulsion. She can't even picture him."

"Hypnosis... a strong vampire," said Pam, echoing Eric's own thoughts.

"Bring in her closest friend," Sookie said. With every minute, she seemed more sure of herself, even speaking to Pam as if the two were equals.

"Should she stay or go?"

"She should go," Sookie advised. "It'll only scare someone else."

And she should go before I break her neck, Eric thought.

At another time, he would be wickedly pleased at the idea of Pam taking directions from a human. Under the circumstances, however, there was little pleasure to be had. A vampire had done this. A vampire who did not have much longer to live.

He rested his eyes on Sookie as Pam escorted the unhinged barmaid out of the room. In spite of everything, he saw that her mouth was turned up into a small smile. She was enjoying this. She did want to use her gift. If they had been alone, he would have backed her against the wall and kissed her with abandon—in a way Bill Compton had surely never kissed her.

Pam returned with Belinda; Eric liked this one. He'd had her once in this office and found her quite satisfactory.

"Belinda, what vampire has Ginger been seeing?" he asked her as Sookie took the barmaid's wrist.

"Anyone that would have her."

Eric smirked, but it faded quickly at the look on Sookie's face.

"Which one from here?" she asked.

Eric followed her gaze to the wall where Pam, Long Shadow, and Bill stood quietly, and he moved at the same time Long Shadow lunged. With lightning speed, he removed the stake and mallet from his desk, ran behind Long Shadow, and staked him.

He smelled the vampire's rotting blood, and he smelled Sookie's blood. He had wanted to taste that blood since the first night he saw her, but he hadn't thought it would be spilled like this. It should have oozed gently as he drew it into his mouth and licked it away from her skin. She should have been in his arms, arching her body into his hands. His fangs extended as he stared at her across the smoking remains of his former partner.

"You'll have to get you an area rug," she said.

Eric couldn't tear his eyes away from her lips. "Your mouth is bloody."

"He bled onto me," she said. Her eyes were wide with shock, intensely blue.

"Did any go down your throat?"

"Probably. What does that mean?"

It means that bastard gave you his blood, when you should have mine flowing in your veins.

"That remains to be seen," said Pam. "Usually, we drink from humans, not the other way around." Her voice sounded far away to Eric, though he knew she was right there, lusting after Belinda. He couldn't exactly blame her for that.

"How do things look to you now, Sookie?" he asked her. She was staring at him just as intently as he was staring at her. Sweet fuck, he wanted her, even with Long Shadow's blood fouling her body. He wanted to lift her onto his desk, tear open those jeans, cover every part of her body with his hands and his tongue, drink her blood and give her his.

She was speaking again, but the words barely registered. As she talked, the delicate movements of her neck made the blood shimmer, calling to him. It smelled so much sweeter than he could have imagined.

"Who's mixing the drinks tonight?" he heard her say.

"We got a substitute. You smell... different, Sookie."

He dropped the mallet and drew closer to her, pressing his tongue against his fangs. Where the hell was Bill Compton in all of this? Where was Bill when Long Shadow attacked his girlfriend? Where was Bill now that he, Eric, was about to claim Sookie on that desk? Eric didn't care.

"Well, remember now, Eric, we had a deal," said Sookie.

Yes, I remember. A deal with the devil.

Her smile was nervous. Fearful. As if she didn't realize the ecstasy he could give her. She backed away a little, an antelope seeing her fate in the eyes of the lion. "Bill and I are going home now, aren't we?" Her eyes searched for Bill, but she didn't seem to like what she saw there. "Pam," she said desperately, moving between Pam and Belinda, "get out of the way."

There was shuffling—movement—the door opened.

"Call Ginger," said Sookie.

"Ginger!" And then: "Eric wants you."

He took the woman's body into his arms as she writhed against him, and then the smell of her made him plummet back into his proper mind. He hated Ginger now, at this moment, more than he ever did. But his body's hunger was operating separately from his mind now, and he leaned over her, prepared to bite. Before he did, he looked at Sookie.

"I'll see you again," he said hoarsely.