Eric brushed his long, golden hair before he got out of his car. The lot in back of Fangtasia was deserted, but it wouldn't be long. The back door was being held open with a case of beer, so he knew Pam and some of the humans were getting ready for the night. Eric was tired of this routine, but it was better than sitting home watching TV or trolling the streets for a meal. At least this way, his meals came to him.

He was wearing head to toe black leather in spite of how warm it was. He didn't know why, but he wanted to be particularly menacing tonight. There was a convention in town, so maybe they'd make good sales tonight and there was always a chance he'd get the satisfaction of kicking some pathetic human in the face. That was always a bright spot of the night.

He strode into the back of the bar with his usual air of arrogance and command, nodding to Pam, and to two new bar girls, all of whom called him "Master," and bowed to him. He loved being called Master. One advantage of vampires being out in society was that a Sheriff like Eric could command the kind of attention and respect he deserved openly. He didn't have to pretend to be less than he was to get along with unsuspecting humans. He could be his glorious, dangerous, merciless self and the unwashed masses would clamor for his attention and approval, eagerly offering their money – as well as their bodies and their blood - to him hand over fist.

He went to his office, tended to a few bills and approved some orders Pam wanted to send in to the distributors. He cruised on the internet for a bit, shopping for nothing in particular, but he ordered some nice silk shirts and made an appointment for his tailor to come to the club and check them for any necessary alterations when they arrived. He wrote his weekly report on the state of his Area, he watched a little TV on the small set in his office, then he decided to head out front. He checked his hair in the mirror again, shaking it out like a lion's mane and smiling at the result. He would be utterly irresistible to some eager young human who would gladly offer herself or himself up to Master of the house. It was a Wednesday night, so humans drank free until Midnight, and that brought in lots of lovely, pale little girls and boys dressed in black and painted to look the way they thought a vampire should look.

Eric dreaded the sea of black tonight. Everything in his world was dark. The women were dark in spirit and in their dress, of which they wore too little, and makeup, of which they always wore too much. If it weren't for an occasional red wall in Fangtasia, there would be no color in the club at all. Even the pale flesh that beckoned to him was colorless and dull. These humans might not be dead, but he'd hardly consider them alive. They were stupid, they were dull and they had little ambition and no imagination. Eric straightened the collar of his black silk shirt and mused about selling the bar, but again, it was too convenient having his meals seek him out. He berated himself for his own lack of ambition, but he really had no interest in changing his routine, no matter how boring it had become.

Eric finally went out to the club, enjoying the murmur that flowed through the crowd as he swept into the room. The staff rightly respected and feared him. The humans were fascinated by him. It was just as it should be, as far as Eric was concerned. No one would stand up to him about anything, no matter how minor the point might be. That was a little dull but it was expedient and Eric was all about expedience these days. He would frighten the tourists, choose one or more of his patrons to fuck and to feed upon, then he would go home early and read a book. He wasn't even sure he'd use the sex room below the club tonight. Some nights, it was just too much trouble to set the scene. So many of his offerings were happy just to be bent over his desk that it seemed a waste of energy to give them much more.

He laughed to himself that he should write a book, or commission one, because he'd read all of the erotica he had so many times that he had it memorized. The stuff people were churning out these days was too vulgar. So much of it expressed a marked hatred for women and that was the opposite of a good read for Eric. He adored women, when he found a good one, but they were fewer and farther between every century. The little goth chicks that filled his club were mostly disposable. He hadn't seen a woman worth fighting for in at least 250 years, but some part of him hoped there might be one somewhere. That hope quickly faded when he reminded himself that such a woman was unlikely ever to darken the doors of Fangtasia, and Eric rarely went anywhere else except for official vampire functions. He occasionally went shopping, but that was a last resort. Except for his need to feed, Eric was a separatist. He only dealt with humans when he needed blood, sex or money. They didn't last long, so there was little point in investing energy in them. As soon as you got used to having them around, they went and died on you.

Eric sat in his throne-like chair and checked his email on his phone. He had a text from the Queen and a couple from other Sheriffs, so he replied to those and sipped on the Real Meal that was served to him instantly when he sat down. He preferred drinking RM in the club because it gave him pleasure to drink human blood in front of humans. As long as there was RM, he didn't need them, but they still wanted him. That was exactly how he liked his relationships – all the control belonged to him.

He was playing Scrabble on his phone because it stretched his knowledge of English, occasionally scanning the crowd for tonight's lucky donor, when a balding little man crawled up before him and dared to touch Eric's knee. Eric promptly kicked the man across the room, smiling for the first time tonight. That was always good fun, and would probably be the best thing that happened tonight.

"Master?" Pam stepped up on the stage behind Eric's chair and waited for leave to approach.

"Yes, Pam?"

She leaned over to speak softly and tease the humans who would speculate about what she was telling the Master. "Bill Compton his here tonight,"

"Really? I had thought he was still avoiding me. He's not as smart as I thought he was."

"You'll be interested in his companion, I'm sure."

"Why would a companion of Compton's hold any interest for me?"

"They're over in the corner – blonde, blue eyes, 25…"

"Mmmmm, I see. I wonder where Bill found that tasty bit?"

"She's asking questions about our patrons, too, Master, she showed pictures to Long Shadow and asked if he noticed who they associated with here."

"He told her we don't allow that, I assume?"

"He did, but I thought you might enjoy telling her yourself. He also said you took one of the girls home recently."

"Indeed? What else do you know about Bill's human?"

"Her name is Sookie Stackhouse, she's from Bon Temps, but I don't think she's Bill's human – he introduced her as his friend."

"She looks mildly interesting from this distance. Will I be disappointed as she draws near?"

"I think not, Master – she's very pretty, and not quite bright enough to be afraid of us."

"I can take care of that," Eric smirked.

"I don't know, Master – this one might not back down as quickly as you'd like."

"Really? Would you like to make a little wager, Pam?"

"Yes, I would."

"I make her cry in 10 minutes or you get a week in New Orleans?"

"You're on, Master."

Eric had scanned Compton and his date a couple of times. He wouldn't mind a little diversion at the moment so he summoned them with a small motion of his hand. Bill looked worried, which made Eric happy, and he got a better look at the girl as she and Bill approached.

'Lovely figure, moves gracefully,' he thought, 'but what is she wearing? I wonder if she knew where Compton was bringing her?'

The pair stepped into the light, which made the girls hair glisten like sunshine. She was actually wearing a dress – a very pretty, red and white dress with a full skirt and cleavage brimming. No black makeup, no black clothes and she actually had a suntan. She stood out like a light in the darkness. Eric was shocked to realize he was feeling something akin to excitement.

"Bill Compton, it has been a while."

"Yes, Eric, I've been…"

""Mainstreaming!"" Eric said, dripping with derision, "I heard." Eric's tone left no doubt that he found the concept bizarre and ridiculous. Look at those breasts…

"I see that is going well for you," Eric honored the girl by showing his interest. This was the prettiest girl he'd seen in a long time. He just prayed she didn't say something stupid and ruin things.

"Oh, yes, Eric, this is my friend…"

"Sookie Stackhouse." 'Yes, Blondie, I know who you are.' Eric had that feeling he loved, like a lion stalking an antelope. Scaring her was going to be fun. The night was looking up.

"How do you know my name?"

Eric didn't respond because he couldn't believe she challenged him that way. Pam spoke up, "I never forget a pretty face. You're in my vault."

Eric smirked at the girl, expecting her to wilt, but she said "Great. That's just great. It's nice to meet you."

"Well, aren't you sweet?" Eric said contemptuously.

"Not really…" she shot back, Bill obviously squeezing her hand to make her stop.

'What's this?' Eric thought to himself, 'she should be afraid of me now. Compton's more afraid than she is. And what exactly is she? She's not human, is she?' He spoke to Pam: in Swedish, "Vår lilla djurpark börjar växa till sig. [Our little zoo is starting to grow]"

"Jag viet. [I know]" Pam replied.

"Miss Stackhouse, I hear you have been asking questions about some of my customers."

"Yes, I have," she replied in the sweetest Southern accent Eric had ever heard. He wondered if she'd notice he had a hard on now. Eric LOVED a girl with a good Southern accent.

"If you have anything to ask, you should ask it of me," he said in his most commanding voice.

"Alrighty, you recognize any of these girls?" She wasn't backing down. She was going to say what she came here to say.

Eric liked that. Now he was less interested in scaring her than in turning her on, so he played it up big. "Mmmm. This one offered herself to me, but I found her too pathetic for my attentions." She didn't like that and Eric noticed. Interesting reaction. "Now this one, however, I have tasted." He looked right at her to see what her reaction would be, hoping she wasn't a sister or best friend, and also hoping to see a little wish that he'd taste her. She was breathing a little heavy. He couldn't take his eyes off her breasts, so he noticed that.

"I remember 'em both," Pam said.

"Is that because of the vault?" Sookie said in a sassy comeback. Eric bit his tongue so he didn't laugh when Compton squeezed her hand again. Eric couldn't tell yet if she was that brave or that dumb, but he wanted to find out which it was. At the very least, she was entertaining. Easy on the eyes, too.

"… Never had either of them, though. They weren't really my type," Pam continued.

"Well, thank you very much, that is all your time I need to take." Sookie reached for her purse to put the pictures away, but before he knew he was doing it, Eric said "I'm not finished with you yet!"

Wow – where did that come from? He didn't know if he wanted that to scare her or not. He did know he didn't want her to leave. He thought he'd lighten up a little so he smiled and tried to be non-threatening, but he was out of practice. "Please, sit?" he said in a voice that was a little too high. She wasn't getting away from him that fast, though, not if he could help it. He wanted more time with this girl so he figured his best bet was to let her know up front he was interested in her. If Eric wanted a woman, he left her in no doubt of it. That's why Eric got the women he wanted.

"So, Bill" he said, never taking his eyes off Sookie as she sat down. She must be a little scared, he figured, because she won't let go of Bill's hand. "Are you quite attached to your "friend?""

"She is mine." Compton was trying to be scary. Eric would laugh at him but he had other things on his mind. Like those breasts…

"Yes, I am his." Sookie said too quickly and too forcefully. Eric didn't believe it, and was determined that he was going to find out if this were true or not.

"What a pity… for me." He was letting her know in no uncertain terms that he wanted her right now and that he wasn't buying it. She looked at him with big eyes as he licked his lips. He couldn't tell if she knew what he was asking Bill, but he was thinking maybe she didn't. She was brave, but she was apparently new to vampire culture. She looked unspoiled and she was completely open, which was rare in those used to being around his kind. Eric made up his mind that at some point in the near future, he was going to fuck Sookie Stackhouse, Bill's or not. "Sit with us." He looked at Bill, daring him to say no, "We have catching up to do, you and I. It has been too long."

"Yes," Bill said, knowing he didn't dare say no, and also knowing that bringing Sookie into this bar was a huge tactical error. The Queen had sent him to do something, and now he would fail. Eric would take her. He knew it. 'Look at the way he's looking at her,' Bill thought, 'he's practically drooling on her. Why did I bring her here!?'

Eric looked Sookie up and down slowly. She was petite but she had long, very pretty legs and those breasts were just begging to be kissed. Eric decided he could happily spend hours just watching her breathe. What the fuck was she doing with Bill Compton? He didn't think it would be hard to take her away from him, though, if he decided he wanted to. Did he want to?

"We have to get out of here." Sookie said out of nowhere.

"Sookie," Bill started to warn her but she kept talking.

"Eric the cops are coming. There's going to be a raid."

"Tell me you're not an undercover cop?" He'd kill Compton if he brought a cop in here.

"I'm not but that man in the hat is."

"Even if you're right, we do nothing illegal here." OK, that was bullshit, but Eric wouldn't run no matter what was going on. How did she know all of this?

"There's a vampire named Taryn in the Ladies' Room with that man you kicked before. She's feeding on him."

"How do you know this?" Pam insisted. Eric wanted to know that, too.

Sookie's eyes got big and she hesitated and Eric caught Bill shaking his head in his peripheral vision. Who was this woman?"

Just then the police did break in.

"Follow me," Eric decided to play hero, so he showed them an escape route. "I enjoyed meeting you, Miss Stackhouse. You will come again."

Shit! Now he was going to have to spend the night dealing with the fucking cops. Were there no other bars in Shreveport? Why were they always pulling this shit on his bar? They rarely found anything. He'd wait an hour then he'd go back and straighten things out. Sookie… Wait. Sookie? Why was he thinking about Sookie when his bar was being raided?

How did she know about Taryn and that human? How did she know about that cop? Was this girl psychic? A Witch? He didn't get close enough to be sure but he could have sworn she had an unusually sweet scent about her. Shit! Why did those cops have to break in now of all nights. If that girl had powers, he needed to know what they were. She apparently lived in his Area, so technically, he should control her, whatever she was and whatever she could do. That's right, he decided – she was his by rights, no matter what Compton was to her. She was more than just a woman. She was valuable – an asset that rightfully belonged to him.

He wracked his brain. What exactly did she do? Was it precognition or telepathy? He'd known people who could do both over the course of his thousand years, but they were normally Witches or Fae. She didn't seem to be either. Whatever she was, he couldn't stop thinking about her. When he went to rest that morning he kept having visions of that glorious blonde hair in the lights on the stage, that luscious cleavage, those big eyes. And that attitude! She never did really show fear. Hell, Compton showed more fear than she did.

That little white and red dress haunted him. How long had it been since he'd seen a flesh and blood woman dressed in anything but black, or jeans and a t-shirt? It was so feminine and it fit every curve of her just so. He wondered if she'd taste as sweet as she smelled? Had she ever been bitten? He didn't see any marks on her, and he looked pretty closely. They could be on her inner thigh, of course, but he didn't let himself dwell on the idea of Compton between her legs or he wouldn't be able to keep himself from going to his house and staking him. Why he should feel such an inclination, he had no idea, but he refused to dwell on it.

The thought of all that femininity and attitude being wasted on the likes of Compton was too much to live with. One way or another, Eric had to see her again. Compton claimed to own her, so let's test that claim, he thought. He had been planning to address Long Shadow's thievery for some time now, but the perfect moment hadn't presented itself. Maybe this was why he hadn't just staked him and been done with it? He needed an excuse to draw Sookie back into his lair, and Long Shadow was as good as any.

"Sookie," he said aloud. What kind of name was that? He'd never heard it before. He told himself that finding out what she could do was his job as Sheriff. He refused to think about he fact that being Sheriff had nothing to do with why he was dreaming about watching her breathe. He'd managed to rationalize this new sense of entitlement he felt toward Sookie Stackhouse and knew that it was just a matter of time before she was his, and his alone.