So the last thing I should be doing right now is starting something new, since I have a couple other unfinished projects that need to be finished up, but oh well. I've been rather discouraged with the whole writing aspect of my life these days, and I figured it was better to go where the muse told me rather than try and fight with it to get my other stuff done. Hopefully this will be the catalyst that will motivate me to finish up the other stuff on my plate.

I'm really not sure how I feel about this little diddly, but it shouldn't go more than two or three chapters (I hope).

A Conversation

Disclaimer: If you recognize it, then it belongs to Charlaine Harris. Everything else is mine.

Summary: Sookie and Eric have that inevitable conversation about being turned much sooner than she'd like. S/E some S/S and the obligatory scene of citrus are all contained within.

~!~

"Mother fudge, it hurts so bad!"

Sam's arm was tight around my waist as he half-carried, half-dragged me up my porch, which had become as insurmountable as Mt. Everest. I tried to help, but my feet dragged useless on the ground every time I took a step. Pain struck like lightning whenever I moved, and my back kept spasming of its own accord. It hurt so bad.

"Come on, Sook. You're almost there," Sam said, hauling me the rest of the way inside. I tried to fight off the tears pricking the corners of my eyes, but the pain was too much. Getting staked didn't feel half as bad as this.

My fingers clutched Sam's shirt hard enough for it to tear a little at the seam as he supported me all the way into the living room. Once there, he unwound himself and propped me up against Gran's old overstuffed chair.

"I'll be right back."

My face was scrunched up real tight and my teeth were clenched. "Hurry."

Another spasm washed down my back, as the muscled tensed with agony strong enough to make my toes curl. Too bad I wasn't bleeding. Then I might've had unconsciousness to look forward to.

My vision was swimming in red by the time Sam returned, which was probably no more than thirty seconds after he disappeared, but it sure felt like thirty years. He came in buried beneath various pillows and blankets, which he proceeded to dump onto the old sofa and arrange.

Once satisfied, he returned to me. "Here," he said, supporting my lower back with his warm arm. My breath was coming in shaky gasps, and I actually whimpered a little when it came time for me to sit down.

"I can't believe I threw my back out," I said after I was settled. The pain was still immense, but at least I could breathe. "I'm only twenty-eight."

"Yeah, well, you shouldn't have been trying to life those cases of beer yourself," Sam said, removing my sneakers for me. "That's what we have Terry for."

"He wasn't around," I argued. "Was I supposed to let all that alcohol sit and spoil in the heat?"

"You should've let me worry about it." After I'd finished hooing and hawing during the slow, excruciating process of lying down, he covered me with Gran's quilt and patted my head—not without affection. "Now you're out of commission for awhile."

"I'll call Eric tonight. He can help." I said. "I might even be good to come in for my shift tomorrow."

Sam's jaw tightened as soon as I mentioned Eric. "Just don't push yourself." He patted my head one last time then got me the remote, the phone, some magazines, and a tall glass of lemonade.

"Do you want me to stay with you?"

"No, Sam, that's okay. I'll probably just sleep until Eric gets here."

"You're sure he's coming."

I nodded, then promptly wanted to pass out thanks to the jolt between my shoulder blades. "He always comes when I'm in trouble."

Sam looked as if he wanted to say something, but he held his tongue—a surefire sign that I would not have liked what he had to say one bit. I blocked his thoughts as best I could just in case I wound up hearing whatever it was anyway.

"Okay, then, I guess I'm going to head back to the bar. Call me if you need anything." He leaned down and kissed my forehead. His lips were soft and warm and unfamiliar. I was careful not to react; he was my boss, after all. "Feel better."

"Thanks, Sam."

He smiled and left through the front door. I heard his engine roar to life a few seconds later then fade as it disappeared down Hummingbird Lane back toward civilization.

Alone again.

God, this sucked. The only time I'd ever seen someone with their back thrown out was almost ten years ago when Maxine Fortenberry hurt herself working in the garden. Gran had sent me over to her house with soup and other goodies to tide her over until she was feeling better, but when I'd gotten to her house, she was holed up in her bedroom, like she on her deathbed. She didn't even turn her head to look at me when I dropped off the food. At the time, I thought she was exaggerating, but now I understood.

I understood all too well.

I sighed and looked at the clock. Only seven more hours until dusk.

If I had any luck at all today, then I would be asleep for most of that, but when I shut my eyes and waited to be unconscious, I couldn't relax. My entire body was in rigamortus, and every time I tried to loosen my muscles, another involuntary convulsion would bring about another round of stabbing pain right in the middle of my back, and I would tense up again.

After about an hour of that torture, I gave up and turned on the television with the intention of losing myself in the wonder of daytime TV. There was nothing more stupor-inducing than an hour or two of soap operas.

Unfortunately, this particular story was all about a woman in love with a guy who had too much power and responsibility. He seemed to care about her, too, but not enough to give up his power.

"Figures," I muttered. Here I was, lying on my coach, completely immobilized by pain: Why not go down the treacherous mental road of my questionable future with Eric? Not like I had anything else to do at the moment.

So down the rabbit hole I went, weighing the pros and cons of aging and dying versus an eternity as undead. Usually whenever this debate came up, I was predisposed to maintaining my humanity, but after a few hours of this pain, I was much more open to life as a vampire.

For the millionth time, I thought about what it would be like to give up the sun for the stars, to give up this cold glass of lemonade for sticky, warm blood, to give up life with all my friends and Jason to be with Eric. Was it worth it?

And just like every other time I played with the scenario, I came to the same conclusion: No. It wasn't natural. Not for me, anyway.

Eric could give me many things, but he couldn't give me children—something I'd wanted since I could remember. And this metaphorical knife twisting the muscles and nerves in my back was a not-so-subtle reminder that I wasn't getting any younger.

Being with him was like taking a huge time-out from the rest of my life. He was funny, he understood me, he was reliable, he was the best roll in the hay I'd probably ever have, but we weren't going anywhere. Unless I let him turn me. And even then we'd eventually end up going out separate ways. I'd been all too aware of this fact for too long, but I'd yet to find the nerve to do anything about it. It didn't help matters that I still loved him more than anything.

I must have fallen asleep midblink—thank God. When I opened my eyes, it was dark, and I could feel Eric coming, his urgency becoming clearer the closer he got. I felt a little guilty that he was so worried; I probably should have left him a message to let him know it wasn't anything serious, but I hadn't thought of it until now. A part of me was glad because that meant I was his priority tonight. He would come sooner and stay longer.

I shoved the obligatory guilt back where it came from and looked forward to his arrival. All the baggage could come after.

A few minutes later, the front door unlatched and I heard Eric's heavy footsteps on the hold hardwood floors. As soon as he was inside, I felt better as the bond released a flood of endorphins into my system. Being with Eric was literally becoming an addiction.

"What happened?" he squatted in front of me, his gaze concerned.

I would have shrugged a little, but the thought of even attempting such a motion almost made me throw up. "I got hurt."

"Were you attacked?" What he really meant was did he have to kill someone.

"No, I was just trying to lift something at work, and . . . I hurt my back."

He stared at me hard, like he couldn't wrap his mind around the concept of being injured any other way than in battle Then again, I'd been staked, tortured, kidnapped, and a whole host of other things, and all it took was a little twitch in my back while I was bent over to take me out of the equation. Even I was a little shocked.

"You can't move."

"Not much."

Eric began stroking my hair with his long, cool fingers, and a little more tension left my body. "Sometimes I forget how human you are."

I ignored the convenient segway into a conversation I wasn't ready to have and closed my eyes. His confusion and indecision nagged at me through the bond, but I wasn't going to do anything about that right now.

We were quiet the next few minutes, until an unpleasant crunching sound broke the taught silence followed by a sweet, metallic aroma. When I opened my eyes, he was holding his wrist out to me, blood pooling in the center like an oasis. Without hesitation, I lapped at the blood, savoring the familiar taste of Eric in my mouth.

Just seconds later, I felt better and could move my arm enough to hold his wrist to my mouth as I continued to suckle and he continued to stoke my hair.

Once the wound closed, I took a deep breath and let his blood work its magic. I felt it spread through my body like the buzz you get with one too many drinks. I felt him from the tips of my fingers all the way through each strand of hair. He truly was a part of me.

A few more minutes went by, and I felt strong enough to sit up. Ever so carefully, I swung my legs over the side of the couch and made room for Eric next to me. When he sat down, he laid a careful arm behind my back, stroking me, and I could feel his fingers working the muscles, looking for a wound.

I rested my head on his shoulder and let him look.

"I love you," he said. "And you love me."

It wasn't a question, but I answered anyway. "You know I do."

"Yes," his voice was soft, thoughtful even. "And I remember the promise I made that I wouldn't turn you." My heart sank. Please don't let this conversation be going where I thought it was. "But I'm not ready to lose you."

"You haven't lost me," I said, trying to alleviate his concern. Maybe I could delay the issue a few more weeks. . . "I'm not going anywhere."

"I've given you so much blood, and your body is already beginning to fail." His voice was almost hesitant, like he was struggling to find the best way to break the news to me.

"Well, what can I say? I asked. "I'm human, and stuff like this is part of getting older. I thought you understood that . . ."

"And therein lies the problem."

I yanked my head off his shoulder to get a better look at him and instantly regretted it when yet another hot poker pierced my spine. Apparently his blood didn't work as fast as I'd assumed.

Sensing my pain, he gripped my shoulders and steadied my upper body until it dissipated.

Once the spell had passed, he said, "I cannot watch you fall apart like this."

"Eric . . ."

"I will take care of you, protect you," he promised. His eyes were a magnetic force I couldn't break away from. "Things are different today. You'll never have to kill, you don't have to hide. Your life can stay almost just as it is."

He made it sound so easy, and he did have a point. Now that vampires were out it was much easier for new vampires to retain their humanity. It was very possible that I could stay Sookie, just with fangs, strength, and pale skin.

I put my head back on his chest and fantasized about it being like this forever.

"Everything would be so much easier if you weren't human . . ."

"I'm not cut out to be immortal," I grabbed his hand in mine, comforted by the cool pressure. "It would kill me to see everyone I care about—my family—get old and die while I stay the same."

"I would be your family. Pam would be your sister." He was baiting me, telling me everything I needed to hear in order to give him the answer he wanted. "Your body is too frail like this."

"That's the way it's supposed to be."

"No, it's not. Not for you." His arms tightened around me, and I winced—partly from pain, and partly from what was coming. I knew what I had to do, and it was only going to get harder the longer I waited. What I didn't know was whether I was strong enough to go through with it.

Eric must have picked up on how my internal struggle. He cradled me against his chest and said, "You don't want to be with me anymore." It wasn't an accusation as much as a statement, but that didn't make it any less effective.

I didn't expect the words to hurt as much as they did—they were true after all—but they hit me like a sack full of bricks.

"But you do love me," he continued.

I nodded.

"And you don't want to be turned."

My breath shook as I exhaled, and I nodded again.

"Then tell me what you want."

What a loaded question that was. I wanted everything. I wanted to lose ten pounds, win the lottery, and have a family all without sacrificing Eric. The perfect solution would be for everyone I know to get turned and then we'd live as one big happy family for the rest of forever. But somehow, that didn't seem likely.

"I . . . don't know," I said after a full minute of silence. "I want to be with you, but I have to get on with my life. I want a family. I want to get old and be the wise old woman to my grandkids that my Gran was for me. I want to see sunrises and eat good food and work hard. But I can't let you go, either."

"You are my wife and my bonded. We cannot be separated." He kissed my temple.

"You're going to get bored of me. It's not going to be like this forever," I said. "One day I'm going to be wrinkly and pieces of me are going to sag."

"Not if you become like me."

"Eric . . ." His arguments were getting harder and harder to fight. He started this conversation with every intention of walking away having exactly what he wanted.

"This life is not as awful as you imagine. And we could be together."

"Yeah, but for how long?" I asked. "I'll probably be with you long enough for everyone I know to die and then what?"

Eric remained silent.

"Things might be okay for awhile, but sooner or later, we're going to tire of each other, and then I'll be stuck with an eternity I don't want."

"I cannot lose you so soon." His voice was hard, and a steel rod of determination was overwhelming the bond.

"I don't know if I can handle losing you, either," I admitted, the hot tears finally spilling onto my cheeks. "But if we don't end it now, it's going to be that much harder later on."

Eric's emotions were churning like a storm at sea. He saw my logic, but was in no way ready to let go. Neither was I, but what could we do? This was inevitable.

He kissed me then, hard, and our mutual attraction flourished and compounded between us. Our need mingled together, tangling with the other raging emotions. For all the other issues in our relationship, chemistry was not one of them. He barely had to touch me to make me crave more.

And I wanted him more than anything right now. I wanted to feel his hands all over me, under my shirt, inside my panties. I wanted to rearrange so that he was between my legs, where he should have been all along. I wanted him to keep kissing me like this until the sun came up, and I wanted to feel his own pleasure explode across the bond when he finally achieved his own satisfaction.

But none of that could happen.

With a massive effort, I pulled away from his mouth and out of his arms, hunching over my knees with both hands clutching my forehead. "You should go."

"Sookie—"

"Please," I begged. "Please don't make this any harder."

Somewhere not that deep inside me, I wanted him to fight, to kiss me again, to turn me anyway and take the choice away. That was what the Eric I met in Fangtasia would have done. But he only sat there next to me a few minutes more, unsure and quite unhappy. It hurt much more than it should have when I felt his misery turn to resolve.

"I will return when you're ready. You are still my wife, and separating is not as simple as it sounds. You still have enemies."

"No, Eric, don't—" I started, but he was done listening. Without any parting touch or even a glance, he lifted off the sofa and walked out the door he came from, leaving our relationship one, big open-ended question.

I didn't sleep that night, or the next, or the one after that. I didn't go to work, and I didn't eat anything but the occasional saltine. Eric was gone.

Whenever the sun set, I would fall into another depression, clinging to Eric's every emotion. How I was I supposed to get over him, when I could feel him so much that it was like he was right there next to me? Most of the time, he was just as miserable as I was, which only made me feel more guilty.

There was no doubt that he'd felt how much I missed him, but he held true to his word and stayed away. The weeks slipped by and I had yet to hear anything. I hated how he seemed to be able to walk out of my life as easily as I'd stumbled into his.

Finally, there was nothing left for me to do but pick up the pieces and get on with it.

It was five years later when I saw Eric again, and by then, everything had changed. Except our bond; that was still as strong as ever. But that didn't stop me from moving on, getting married, and having a baby, like every southern girl should.

It took a lot of time, but I eventually grew to appreciate our connection. What used to be a painful reminder of our time together had become a source of comfort. It let me know that Eric was still alive and in Louisiana.

He wasn't exactly happy, but I didn't think he ever really was.

I wasn't exactly Ms. Chipper, either, mostly because I still loved Eric, and something told me that I always would. But I'd refused to be one of those who girls who dwelled and wallowed after a break-up and ended up being the kind who fell into bed with her boss instead. Soon after that started, I got pregnant.

Now she was four, and I was a married housewife.

Sam took good care of me, and Lucy kept me busier than anything; I was doing okay. Never mind the fact that I had to remind myself every morning that Sam was never a rebound and that this was the life I'd always wanted.

This was how life should be. I had people to take care of, my daughter to look out for. No more wondering which supe wanted to kill me and which one wanted to date me. All that was done. I'd made my bed and now I was lying in it.

After some trial and error, I'd successfully filled the shoes of a southern housewife and mother, cooking too much and hospitality personified—a woman any man would have been proud to come home to.

I often thought about what would have happened if Eric had actually returned like he promised. Would I have gone with him? Would I rescind his invitation? Maybe he'd just kill me for all the grief I've caused him. Whatever his hypothetical intentions, if he showed up again, I didn't think I'd be able to resist him—not even after five years of separation.

The sun had been risen a solid fifteen minutes, and I'd already mixed the morning's pancake batter and threw some sausage on the stove. Lucy ate about four bites of breakfast, per usual, and had since moved on to her favorite pastime of coloring. Sam was upstairs in the shower getting ready for his overnight trip to Baton Rouge for an annual Shifter's conference in Louisiana. He was hoping to meet some local distributors that might give him a better deal due to their shared background.

The last few years had been difficult for Sam. Many of his suppliers had either backed out of their contracts or upped their rates when they found out he was two-natured. We still got by, though it was a little too close for comfort. Still, neither of us were one to just go belly up without exhausting all options. And this conference was a good opportunity.

"Good morning," Sam smiled when he walked into the kitchen. He gave me a quick kiss on the mouth, the fresh scent of aftershave lingering on his skin, then went over to Lucy and gave her a hug from behind. "Good morning, Lucy."

"Good morning, Daddy."

"What are you doing?"

"I'm making Mommy a picture." Her little voice still had trouble pronouncing Rs, so it came out more like "pictaw."

Sam leaned over her shoulder to evaluate her handiwork. "Is that Mommy?" he asked, pointing at the paper.

Lucy nodded, her long red ringlets bouncing all over her shoulders in the process. Then she picked up the yellow crayon and scribbled, concentrating so hard that her tongue started to protrude from the corner of her mouth while Sam looked on, the corners of his mouth pulled up and his eyes crinkled.

I leaned against the sink and watched their interaction; Sam really was a wonderful father. He was patient, kind, attentive, hard-working . . . I could go on.

I absolutely did not deserve him.

"She looks beautiful." He looked over at me and winked. I obliged him a smile then served him up a plate of breakfast and sausage before dumping the cookware in the sink.

He sat down in front of his breakfast, thanking me, and proceeded to eat. By the time I'd cleaned two pans, he was finished and on his way out the door. He kissed the top of Lucy's head and she smiled up at him before returning to her drawing.

"Are you sure you're going to be okay tonight?" he asked, coming over to me and wrapping his arms around my waist. "I could try and make it back tonight."

"We'll be fine, Sam. Take your time and just get home safe."

He pulled me close enough to feel the heat off his skin from beneath his t-shirt. "I wish you were coming with me."

"Someone's got to stay and run the bar . . ." and I was really looking forward to a quiet night alone, but I didn't tell Sam that.

"I'm going to miss my girls," he said.

"It's only one night," I leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. "We'll be here when you get back."

When I pulled away, he looked at me warily. "I hope so." He'd never really believed that I was over Eric. Probably because I wasn't. But that didn't mean I wasn't completely devoted to Sam and our daughter. Nothing could make me leave them.

After another round of hugs and goodbyes, Sam kissed us once more for luck and promised to return with lots of presents for Lucy, who giggled up at him from her high chair. "Bye, Daddy!" Her chubby arm waved after him.

He smiled. "Bye, munchkin," then turned to me. "I'll be back sometime tomorrow afternoon."

"We'll be waiting."

One more hug and he was gone.

After cleaning the kitchen, getting Lucy dressed in her favorite pink, cotton dress, and throwing myself into the shower, we ended up getting to Merlotte's less than a half hour before opening. Not a good way to start the day. Since I had Lucy with me, I was only working through the lunch shift to keep her far away from the boozing crowd.

Other than arriving to half the staff waiting in the parking lot for me to unlock the doors, the day went pretty smoothly, not that much ever happened in the early shift. Our beer delivery came later that morning, and my back twitched thinking of how dangerous those cases of Keystone could be, but I still managed to help bring some of them inside.

Lucy spent most of the day sitting at the table by the door, greeting customers, working on puzzles, and of course, coloring. Everyone got a smile, and most everyone smiled back; she was too cute to ignore.

Sam had asked me to start the next week's schedule while he was away, so I shut me and Lucy up in his office and stared at the spreadsheet, fighting not to rip my hair out. Lucy didn't like being shut away from all the people and made sure I knew it, which didn't make the process any easier. There was something eternally frustrating about setting schedules; someone was always going to be upset.

It took much longer than it should have, and by the time I was done, Lucy was passed out on the old couch against the wall, but I thought I'd managed to give everyone the shifts they wanted and that they had the hours promised them. If I didn't, well, then Sam could deal with it.

I used to worry about the very real possibility of someone with supernatural strength breaking into my house and killing me in my sleep. Now, my biggest concern was whether I'd overlooked someone when I was making the schedule. Oh, how my life had changed.

Once the schedule was set, I picked up my old apron and notepad and went back to my waitress roots. I was pleased to see that I still remembered everything and could keep up with the new generation of younger, perkier waitresses.

Eventually, four o'clock came around and we could go home. I'd forgotten how tiring it was to stand for so long—and I'd even spent a lot of time in the back working on paperwork. My back had a crick, and my knees cracked every time they bent. A few years ago, I would have had another four hours left in me. Not so much anymore.

With some last minute closing instructions to Charlise, I handed over the keys, packed Lucy in the car seat, and was homeward bound a few minutes later.

Being late fall, the sun was beginning its descent by the time we pulled up the driveway, and I noticed a bite in the air when I slammed the car doors. Once I got her out of the car, I hustled inside where it was warm with Lucy in my arms. She was too busy telling me about each customer she encountered that day to even notice the cool temperatures.

When we got inside, I fixed her some macaroni and cheese for dinner and some homemade chili for myself. We ate quickly, not saying much, and as soon as we finished, I cleared the plates to wash them while Lucy played in the living room.

As I cleaned, I looked out the window just in time to see the sun disappear behind the tree line. In a few moments, I would feel the stirring in the bond that let me know when Eric awoke—my favorite part of the day. Sure enough, not ten minutes later, I felt that familiar pull right at my sternum, letting me know he was conscious. Right away, I could tell he was not happy, miserable even. I hadn't sensed so much darkness in him since we first split up.

And then I felt something else. He was moving. Fast. And in my direction. He was coming here.

My heart rate sped up and my blood pressure dropped—whether from excitement or fear, I didn't know. All I could think about was that after five years, Eric was coming to see me.

I threw the sponge into the sink, all thoughts of dishes and chores forgotten, and went to get Lucy.

"Look, Mommy, I almost finished the puzzle!" she called, trying to draw attention to the Winnie-the-Pooh puzzle on the floor, which was missing several pieces of Pooh's face.

"Very nice, sweetie." I pulled the puzzle pieces from her hands and picked her up. Lift with your legs, not your back. "Come on, time for bed."

"But I'm not tired," she whined.

"No arguments, missy." I took her up into the bathroom and bathed her as quickly as possible, barely rinsing the shampoo from her hair. Eric was getting closer; I could feel his emotions beating at my chest. My hands started to tremble. Something was going to happen tonight, I had no idea whether it was going to be a good something.

After rubbing the towel up and down her small, white body, I combed her hair and threw on her favorite pajamas. He was almost here.

"What story do you want tonight?" I asked, putting her in her bed and pulling the covers in tight around her.

"Hungry caterpillar!" she grinned and I smiled, reaching for the book.

The caterpillar had only eaten up to the three plums when I felt him arrive. I didn't hear the door open, but I knew he was waiting for me downstairs. Lucy was still listening attentively, so I kept going, praying that she would be asleep by the time the book was over.

As the story wore on, I noticed her eyes start to close and her body start to relax. My voice became even softer and more soothing as it coaxed her into unconsciousness. We got lucky; once that kid went down, she didn't move until morning.

Just when the caterpillar became a butterfly, her breathing evened out and her head lolled to the side; she was asleep, and I was finally free to face the unresolved past waiting in my living room.

I pressed my lips to the side of Lucy's face and brushed some of her damp hair behind her ears, before stepping into the hallway, closing her door behind me. Ever since Eric arrived, what felt like a massive bird began flapping its wings against my throat and stomach, and it only got worse as I went downstairs.

He was standing by the window when I came down, and I actually gasped when he turned to face me. He looked exactly the same as the night he'd left—gorgeous and intimidating as he looked at me dressed in a t-shirt the same shade of blue as his eyes and dark jeans. I didn't know why I was so surprised; he was a vampire. Probably because the years had been nowhere near as kind to me. My hair was a frizzy mess, my pants had gone up a size, and I'd started to notice some lines around my eyes that grew a little deeper every time I looked in the mirror.

"Hello, wife," he said. I could feel the ease spread throughout both our bodies at being in each other's presence once again, like we'd been holding our breath for the past five years and finally let it go.

"Eric," I said, hating how cold I sounded. Inside, I wanted to jump into his arms and never let him go, but you'd have thought he had just offered to sell me an encyclopedia. "It's been a long time."

I gestured to the couch, and we both sat down.

"You look well," he said, and I could feel his eyes roam over my body.

"Thanks, you do, too." He nodded, and I just sat there feeling awkward. I wanted to touch him so badly, but I knew if I did, it would only lead to a series of awful decisions that I could never take back. "What are you doing here?"

Sensing my need for contact, he put his hand on my knee and moved a little closer. "Victor's dead."

The breath rattled in my chest and I found myself leaning into his touch. The rapidly shrinking rational portion of my mind was telling me it was not a good idea, but everything else in me was screaming to jump him right then and there. In that moment, I couldn't have given a shit about Victor. And I knew he felt the same. But still, I asked, "What happened?"

"He was embezzling from Felipe and building his own following. It eventually became apparent that he intended to take the Louisiana territory for his own, but Felipe found out and had him staked."

"Oh." I was expecting something a little more . . . relevant to my life. "You had to come here to tell me that?"

"One of your last enemies is dead. I wanted to tell you in person." He looked at me, his eyes softening. "And I've missed you."

Oh, God. We were going to go there tonight. He put his arms around me, pulling me the short distance across the couch to lie against him, and I just let him.

My eyes shut and before I could stop myself, I breathed in his light, cool scent, and curled against his body like we'd never been apart. His hand drifted up and down the back of my t-shirt while silence filled the few remaining gaps between our bodies. Contentment had pooled in the bond as soon as we made physical contact, and the sensation was carrying us away.

Finally, Eric said, "You have a daughter."

I nodded but didn't look at him. Other than missing me, I really didn't know why he was here, and it made me a little nervous. He'd been missing me for the past five years, so why now, why this night—the one night Sam was out of town? Was this his idea of making good on a promise he made to come back five years ago?

"What's her name?"

"Lucy," I said. "She's asleep."

I felt his curiosity bloom, so I wasn't surprised when he disentangled himself and stood. "I want to see her."

"Eric, I don't know if that's a good idea—" I started, but he ignored me and went up the stairs. Unable to stop him, and not about to let him alone with her, I followed. He paused at her door, turned to me, and smirked before twisting the knob and going inside, silent as a cat.

When I got there, he was crouched in front of Lucy's bed, a few inches from her face, staring intently. Thankfully, she was still fast asleep.

"She looks like you."

"You think so?" I leaned against the doorframe, feeling a little more confident that curiosity was his only motive to be in the room. "I always thought she looked like her father."

"She has your lips," he said. "and your smell."

"Oh."

He turned to look at me. "Does she have your gift?"

"No, thank God," I replied with absolute sincerity. If she was stuck with my disability, I didn't think I could have forgiven myself. I wouldn't wish that on Debbie Pelt even. And I wished a lot on Debbie Pelt. "No she's completely normal as far as we can tell."

Before I could stop him, he stroked her cheek with the back of his hand, and I held my breath, terrified that she was about to wake up, but Lucy only sighed and rolled over.

I spent the next few minutes watching him stare at my daughter and trying to find a reason for him to come here. Somehow, I didn't think it was because of Lucy' fascinating sleeping habits. "What are you really doing here, Eric?" I asked when I'd failed to come up with any plausible explanation for him to be in my house.

"I wanted to see you." His tone was matter of fact, the most natural explanation in the world. But I wasn't buying it. He'd had every opportunity to come see me, but he'd decided to show up the one night Sam was out of town. I glared at him, waiting for the rest of the story, and I could feel him struggling with his emotions, which was never a good sign. When he spoke, it was less than a whisper. "Pam left."

Well that was one scenario I hadn't considered. Pam had mentioned to me on more than one occasion that she was thinking of moving on, but I didn't think it was going to happen for a while yet. Apparently, I'd been mistaken.

As Eric sat there beside Lucy, his loneliness swelled and I found myself beside him before I'd even had the chance to think about it. I wrapped my arm around his waist and put my head on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry."

"It was time for her to move on."

"When did she leave?"

"About a year ago."

He turned his head to rest on mine and laced our fingers together. This was really not the place for cuddling, but neither of us felt compelled to separate, so we didn't.

"I still love you," he said after a moment. "I can feel that you still love me."

"It's not that simple anymore," I said, not bothering to deny what we both knew was true. "I've changed a lot."

"It could be." his thumb started to rub the back of my hand, brushing all the right nerves to turn me on.

With some difficulty, I pulled my hand away. "We can't do this here. Let's go downstairs."

He didn't speak as we got to our feet and went out into the hallway, but I sensed his turmoil. He was desperate, lost, confused. When Pam left, he was completely alone with nothing but his stupid politics to occupy his time. I was the last person he trusted, that he shared any kind of connection with.

We were halfway down the stairs when he suddenly grabbed my arms and pinned them against the wall on either side of my head, his frustration and anger hot enough to burn. Framed pictures of family members lined my stairwell—everyone from long dead aunts to the one professional photo we'd had done of Lucy—and right now, Eric had me pinned between Gran's wedding photo and my great-uncle Francis.

"Is she the reason you don't want to be with me?"

"Eric, please—"

"Because I couldn't give you children?" He almost spat the last word.

"That's not fair—"

He ground his hips against mine, and it took every last shred of willpower to hold back the moan. "I know you still want me just as badly as I crave you. I can feel it."

"That was never the issue." I tried to take my arms back, but he only squeezed them harder, not enough to hurt, but enough to let me know who was in control. "We're from two different worlds. It was going to end one way or another anyway."

"So you took the easy way out?" he hissed, and I could feel it on my face. In that moment, I would have given anything to be anywhere but pinned against the wall with Eric. "In all the time I've known you, you've never taken the easy way. I think you were just afraid."

I shut my eyes when the pain of his words swelled in my chest. I'd realized long ago that everything he was saying now was exactly true, and I was still not ready to face it.

"Of course I was afraid!" I shot back, desperate for a defense mechanism. Indignation would have to do. "I didn't want to end up dead—or undead, for that matter—which was exactly where I was heading. I needed some kind of normalcy in my life, and of course, now that I have it, you have to storm back in."

"Stop lying to yourself, Sookie. You're miserable. We both know it."

I opened my mouth, but no comeback fell out.

"You miss the excitement, the danger," his words tickled the fuzz dusting my neck.

". . . that's not me anymore," I whispered. "I have a daughter—"

"—and she's going to grow up knowing a mere shadow of the woman her mother used to be."

I should have been appalled, but he was making too much sense, like he was pulling the thoughts right from my brain. Defeated, I asked, "What do you want from me?"

He didn't respond right away, but he did roll his pelvis into me once again, reminding me of just how large and in control he was. This time, I couldn't hold back a moan. Especially when I felt his fangs graze my earlobe when he sucked it between his teeth.

"I miss you."

"I know." My back arched into him of its own accord. The need to feel him had become much larger than my self-control, and I was losing myself fast. "I've missed you, too."

There was a rumble deep in his chest, and then his lips were on mine, drowning me in the waterfall of sensations that accompanied every one of his kisses. He rolled my lips between his teeth, pricking them with a fang so we could share the blood.

His hands released my arms and fell to my hips, which he kept pressed flush against him. I didn't even have time to think about how wrong this was before my arms were wrapped around his neck, holding him to me.

Muscle memory hit like a train wreck as our tongues moved like they'd never been apart, and I finally realized how much I missed this. Five years of pent-up need and insatiable craving fell into the kiss as I was reminded of just what his lips could do. When he pushed me even further into the wall and dropped his head to my shoulder, tasting my neck, I got the impression that the feeling was mutual.

Standing had become too difficult at this point, so I picked my feet off the step and wrapped them around his waist. His hands came down to behind my thighs and supported me easily.

My entire body was anchored by that space between my legs pressed against his hard length. He thrust his hips once, and I bucked my own against him, aching to feel him in me again.

I fisted his long yellow hair and pulled his head back to feel his lips on mine. Between us, the bond was raging with our mutual desire as he latched onto my mouth, snaked his hand beneath my shirt, shredding my bra in the process, and tweaked my nipple with a technique he'd had a thousand years to master. I had to bite my lip to keep from crying out.

"I want you," Eric gasped as I began stroking between his legs.

I'd gone this far, might as well seal the deal. "Then take me."

I saw his eyes spark and didn't have the chance to think about my choice of words because his lips had begun working their way down my neck, devastating all sense of reason. His right hand squeezed my breast beneath my t-shirt, and I clawed the shirt off his back, starving for more skin-on-skin contact.

He groaned and I felt his fangs scorch my flesh as they trailed down to my collarbone. Lust had possessed my hips, which began bumping against Eric with an agenda all their own.

No one had ever made me feel as alive as Eric. When I was with him, every cell in my body screamed with life. I felt like I was coming apart in every direction, and only his touch could hold my together. Our time together was like an A-bomb.

He took a step back from the wall, carrying me with him, and sat down on the landing. I was straddling him, my face a comfortable inch from his with my legs bent behind me. As soon as we were settled, he ripped my shirt over my head while burying his hand in the front of my jeans. All too soon, I felt his fingers start to play me like an instrument, and I just closed my eyes and let him work.

My hands clutched the smooth skin of his shoulders while the heat grew deep in my center. I had to bury my screams by biting down on whatever skin was available. The first time, it was just below the hollow of his throat. The second time was the side of his neck. The third time was around his left nipple. Each time my teeth came down, he would groan, and his fingers would move just a little faster. We were all over each other.

A few minutes into the dirty petting session, Eric flipped us over so that I was lying on the landing, and he was spread between my legs. His massive hands left my jeans and slid up to my shoulders, starting from the very tips of my fingers then dripped all the way down the front of my body. His hands covered a large enough area so that not one hair, one freckle, was overlooked. When he got to the waist of my jeans, his fingers caught the belt loops while his hands continued their descent, removing my pants in the process. Soon we were both as bare as sunshine, which was how I loved Eric most.

All thoughts of Lucy, Sam and betrayal disappeared as Eric stood before me, the exact man I remembered. His eyes were hungry and feral when he leaned in and kissed me softly.

"You are still absolutely beautiful." His fingers returned to their ministrations between my legs, this time completely uninhibited by the fabric of my jeans. My head fell back and my body arched as the pleasure spilled over into an orgasm.

As my body clenched around his fingers, his name fell from my lips, and I floated away down a river of bliss.

"Wow," I gasped when I finally remembered how to form words. I hadn't come that hard since . . . well, since the last time I was with Eric.

But before I could say anything else, Eric had flipped us over again so that I was straddling him once more, except this time, his feet were planted a few steps down, and his hips were thrust up, forming a human table of sorts.

Not spent in the least and unable to go another second without feeling him moving within me, I maneuvered us so the head of his erection nudged at my entrance. And then he thrust up, burying himself inside me in one, swift, annihilating thrust. He was just as thick as I'd remembered, stretching me open in ways I could never forget.

"Eric!" I choked on his name.

We were both beyond gentle lovemaking at this point. I wanted him to pound my so hard I couldn't walk. Consequences be damned; he was here now, and everything was right.

His hands cupped my ass as he thrust up into me. My hands were pressed on either side of his head, and my breasts moved in time with his thrusts. His hips were a blur, and each penetration was deeper than the last. At this rate, it wouldn't take long for him to reach my heart, which was already beating erratically.

All I could do was say his name over and over, focusing every last shred of concentration on keeping my voice a whisper so that my daughter could say ignorant, as everything else fell apart.

Eric's eyes were burning me, and I could taste his rapture. His body was cool, but his desire was scalding.

As the tendrils of my second orgasm began to snake their way from my center out to every last nerve ending in my body, I begged Eric to bite me.

Instantly, he shot up beneath me, still engulfed in my heat, and plunged his fangs into the side of my neck. The moment he bit down, we stopped existing as separate entities. I felt his thoughts, his desires his needs as if they were my own. We were one. I knew what sunlight tasted like and Eric sensed what motherhood was like. I felt my life flow into him, and I felt the power in my blood. His arms wrapped tighter around my waist as he continued to drink deeply, only breaking away as his own climax overwhelmed him in a furious explosion of blistering sensation.

When we were done, I leaned forward and pressed myself against him, not ready to break the contact. Every inch of my body was tingling with pins and needles, which only got worse instead of improving when Eric began to stroke his back.

After a few minutes of recovery, he broke the silence. "I cannot be away from you again."

I closed my eyes and didn't respond as the reality of what we'd just done began to pierce my newfound happiness.

"Go upstairs, get your daughter, and come with me. We'll leave tonight. I promise to always take care of you—both of you."

I tried to roll off him, but he held me in place. So much of me wanted to take his offer, to leave everything behind and go. "Eric," I said, my voice thick. "I do love you, but I can't do that."

"Why?"

"Because Lucy needs her Dad."

"I'll be her father. I'll teach her how to be strong and brave and protect her." He licked some of the drying blood that had escaped down my neck. "I will not let you go again."

"No, she needs Sam, her real father. Can't it be enough that I love you more than anyone?" I turned my head to the side and laid it on his chest, not at all bothered by the missing heartbeat.

"No." he said, his tone firm. "I will not share you."

Of course he wouldn't. Not that I would have considered taking on two men at once, either. Clearly, this was one of those situations where someone was going to end up hurt, and it was my job as a mother to pick the option least likely to hurt Lucy, which would be stay right where I was. But I didn't know whether that was an option anymore.

I needed time. I couldn't make any decisions right now with my mind all jumbled up by great sex.

"Well, then I need some time to think. Whatever I decide, I have to talk to Sam."

I felt more than heard a growl deep in his chest. "You do not love that shifter," he said. "His opinion should mean nothing."

"He's the father of my child, Eric," I shot back. Sam was a good man; regardless of whether I was in love with him, I did care about him. "If you can't accept that he's always going to be a part of my life, then you need to leave now and don't come back."

He ignored my comment and sat up, reaching for his jeans, which were slung over the railing. Putting them on, he said, "I will be back in a week. I expect you to be ready by then."

Then he bent forward, kissed me hard enough for my toes to curl, and went out the front door.

It never failed; every time I saw Eric, my life fell apart and I was faced with an impossible situation that always left someone in pain. I sat on the stairs for most of the night, trying to figure out how I'd let my life get so difficult.

Just before sunrise, the bond whispered of satisfaction and peace. Eric obviously thought that he'd won and we'd be together again soon, and I had an aching suspicion that he wasn't wrong.