Sam Merlotte stood in the parking lot in front of Merlotte's, the neon sign on the roof providing the only light over the darkened bar. He shifted on his feet nervously, clutching the bouquet of red roses, wondering if the flowers were overdoing it. Sam was not usually a red roses kind of guy. He preferred daisies and gardenias, even carnations, and occasionally tulips, and he searched his memory to realize that he had, in fact, never bought a woman red roses before.

Sometimes a guy had to give a more obvious message, Sam thought. He might choke and sputter on the words, might not be able to make his feelings or his intentions clear, but red roses were a language that every woman spoke. At least, he thought so… and hoped so.

He ran a hand through his hair. He didn't usually give much thought to his appearance, but he'd made sure his jeans were clean and his blue plaid shirt was pressed today. He'd worn a newer pair of cowboy boots, even though they were stiff and not broken in yet. He'd shined his favorite belt buckle.

Where was she?

Sam sensed a restlessness in the air and worried that he was breaking out in a sweat. Automatically he glanced at the sky, but the moon wasn't even close to full. So much planning had gone into this evening, but that was no reason for such a bad case of nerves.

It just had to be perfect.

There was no way it was going to be perfect.

And then the battered blue car she drove was pulling into the lot. Sam wiped the hand that wasn't holding the roses on his jeans. His heart hammered in his chest, but it did that every time her saw her. Anne Marie climbed out of her rusty vehicle and grinned at him when she spotted the roses. Sam silently congratulated himself on the choice.

She was dressed in pink, a color many redheads couldn't handle, but then, she was like no other redhead Sam had ever known. The short dress was some sort of shiny material and it clung to her curves in a distracting manner. He wanted to rip it the hell off of her and get at all the heat he knew lay underneath.

"Sam Merlotte, you look like you wan' eat me right up, you," she teased, sashaying towards him, accepting the roses, pressing her softness against him and turning her freckled face up for a kiss.

"Happy Birthday, Anne Marie," Sam said huskily. He bent his head and claimed that kiss, swearing he saw sparks dance over both of their lips at the slightest touch. The flowers smashed between them, and the fragrance of bruises rose petals added yet another sensual dimension to the humid night.

"Best gif' I ever got," she said breathlessly when he finally released her mouth.

"The flowers?"

"That kiss."

Sam grinned. "Well, you can have as many of those as you want. But I have something else for you, too."

"I can feel dat." She winked.

"What can I say? You make me crazy," Sam said. He took her hand and led her towards Merlotte's, grinning like a fool.

He opened the door, wondering if she had guessed what he planned. All right, well, maybe Sookie and Arlene and Peggy had planned it. He'd have preferred something more intimate, but he thought this was what she would like. Plus arguing with his waitresses when they were determined had never been Sam's strong suit.

"It be mighty dark in here, Sam," Anne Marie said, a knowing fondness in her voice.

And then the lights flipped on and almost everyone in what was now revealed to be the very crowded bar hollered "SURPRISE!"

Whether she was actually surprised or not, Anne Marie seemed touched and grateful as her co-workers swarmed around her with hugs and warm wishes. Arlene kidnapped the roses and set to finding a vase for them. Momentarily shuffled away from her, Sam glanced around the room. Lafayette had seen to the decorations, and a giant disco ball dominated the bar. Sam wondered if there was any chance he'd get away with pretending it was a piñata. The shiny purple, green and gold hangings seemed shanghaied from last year's Mardi Gras party, but Sam had to admit they still looked pretty good. The pool tables had been rearranged to make a bigger dance floor. The DJ set up in the corner was spinning a mixture of disco and country, depending on whether Arlene or Lafayette was harassing her.

Big platters of Louisiana's finest culinary offerings were piled over several tables, and Sam could see that several of Anne Marie's relatives had taken over the kitchen. In fact, Sam could count at least fifteen people here he knew to be shifters. This probably accounted for the small group of vampires keeping to themselves in one corner. Sam hadn't been able to think of a way to ask Sookie and Peggy from bringing their boyfriends.

Vampire Bill didn't look as stony as the rest of his group, since he was known among the residents of Bon Temps and at least could manage to make conversation with some of them. Sam had never appreciated his manners more than he did tonight. Eric Northman was sitting at a table with Pam and her date, whose name Sam didn't recall but who was definitely dead. Eric looked faintly amused but Pam and her friend looked more bored than Sam could have ever imagined boring could be. All of them had been served bottles of Tru Blood but only Bill had popped the top on his.

A pile of gifts for Anne Marie had piled up on one table. Sam's wasn't among them… he wanted to give her his own gift in private. He noted one luridly wrapped package among the rest and picked it up to examine it. The card was signed from Jason Stackhouse, and a sticker on the wrapping said it came from the Shreveport Erotica Emporium. Sam "accidentally" knocked it into a trash can.

"I seen that, Sam, you bad boy," Lafayette purred into Sam's ear, rubbing up a little closer to him than Sam would have liked. "But I won't tell." He pressed a glass into Sam's hand and Sam knocked the drink back without checking to see what it was. He gasped slightly, then looked from the glass to Lafayette and back. The cook just smiled seductively, batting mascara-ed eyelashes a mile long and showing off glittery gold eye shadow. "Now go git you your woman," he said, then melted into the crowd.

Getting anywhere near Anne Marie seemed to be an impossibility. Every time Sam got close, someone got in his path, and then she was gone. Sighing, he let someone give him another drink. This time he sipped it, looking at her with longing from across the bar. Finally he caught her eye and she smiled at him, red mouth curving wickedly. She winked, and Sam felt the whole world move around him.


Sam jumped. "What is it, Terry?"

"Those Cajuns are wreaking hell in my kitchen. You asked me to cook for this event, but how'm I supposed to cook when they've already gone done all the cooking?"

And the next thing Sam knew, he was in the kitchen mediating between his jumpy day chef and two of Anne Marie's cousins. Fifteen precious minutes and Terry was enrolled in Cajun cooking school. Sam pushed back out into the bar to see the disco ball spinning, lights flashing, and Anne Marie dancing with absolute abandon to Gloria Gaynor.

Dancing with Jason Stackhouse.

Sam sighed. He couldn't win. He saw the roses he had given Anne Marie arranged in a beer pitcher, sitting on one of the tables besides a half-empty platter of shrimp po'boys. They smelled delicious, but Sam had no appetite. He glanced over at the vampires. Peggy was sitting on Eric's lap. Pam and her date looked even more bored. Vampire Bill had let Sookie maneuver him onto the dance floor. Apparently he had cut quite a rug during the 1970's.

Eric whispered something in Peggy's ear and set her on her feet. She made her way over to Sam, weaving only slightly. Sam saw several empty rocks glasses on the vampires' table along with their unopened bottles of Tru Blood.

"Well, come on, Sam. It's a party. You've got to dance," Peggy said, tugging him towards the discoing mob.

"What about Eric?" Sam asked, though he was pretty sure Eric had put her up to this.

"You'd rather dance with Eric? I'd have thought Bill was more your type," Peggy teased as she led Sam into the fray.

At first Sam felt slightly wooden. "Aw, I need another drink for this, Peggy!"

"Just relax!" Peggy said, but a glass found its way into Sam's hand. Two minutes later, Sam was doing the Hustle as if shifters had invented it.

Peggy grinned at Sam, then took his hand so he could twirl her around. A moment later he lost his grip on her fingers. When she spun back in his direction, and into his arms, Sam saw that somehow she had managed to switch partners with Anne Marie. Fearing his grin would split his face in half, Sam grabbed her hand.

"Dis some party, Sam!" she exclaimed, boogeying down with complete confidence and abandon.

"Are you enjoying it?" Sam asked. Her face was pink, her green eyes shiny and joyous.

Nodding, she squeezed his fingers and led Sam off of the dance floor. Glancing back over his shoulder, Sam was surprised to see that Peggy was now dancing with Eric, who also seemed to have a very good memory of the disco era. Pausing to catch his breath by the bar, Sam grabbed a bottle of chilled champagne and two glasses.

"Let's sit down," Sam said.

"I got a better idea," Anne Marie said, and somehow she managed to lead him down the short hallway and out the back door before anyone stopped them. Moments later they were sitting on the steps of Sam's trailer and he was popping the cork on the champagne.

"Happy Birthday, Anne Marie," he said very softly, handing her a glass. But before she even sipped it, he leaned in and kissed her.

"Best one ever," she told him, and kissed him back.

"Until next year," Sam promised.

Finally they raised the champagne glasses and clinked them together. Sam swallowed the bubbly without tasting it much. He would far rather have had more kisses. As if she read his mind, Anne Marie gave them to him.

"Come into the trailer?" Sam whispered.

"Hmmm, you got a present for me in there, you?"

"I might," Sam grinned.

"Well then… I might, too."

Chuckling, Sam lifted her up into his arms and kicked the door open. He didn't turn on the lights. He didn't want anyone to find them, not for a long, long time.