Chapter 1

It was our first anniversary. Exactly one year ago Eric had pledged (tricked!) me with the knife and we celebrated pretty much all night, with the most mind-blowing sex I had ever had. He had been by turns wild, tender, masterful, inventive, loving and completely indefatigable (a new one from my Word of the Day calendar). Now we lay in my bed together, Eric's head pillowed on my breasts as I stroked his long golden hair. He was completely relaxed; eyes closed and almost purring with pleasure, like a great cat. I decided the time had come. I took a deep breath and took the first step on the road that would change my life for ever. And I do mean, for ever.

"Eric…"

"Mmmm?" he snuggled into me a little more, not opening his eyes. He loved these times when we just cuddled and talked, and so did I. Usually. This one might be a bit different, though.

"Have you ever thought about the future?"

"What do you mean, lover?"

"Well, about what will happen when I grow old, and eventually die."

"Of course I have." His voice sounded solemn and he moved so that he was propped up on one elbow, looking at me with those intense blue eyes of his. "I faced that reality when I first knew that I loved you, but there is no alternative unless I turn you, and you have made it very clear that you do not want that. I promised I would never turn you against your will, however much I may want to keep you, and I will keep my word."
"Have you ever loved a human woman before? Since you became a vampire, I mean?"

"Only once. I think it was in the fourteenth century. I was in Hamburg and I fell in love with a young woman called Elizabeth, and she fell in love with me. The Black Death was in the city and they closed the gates to prevent people from leaving. I could have flown to safety, but she could not, and at that stage of my life I was not strong enough to carry her. I offered to turn her, to protect her, but she said she wanted to think about it, and the next night when I rose she was gone from the house. I searched the city frantically for two nights, and when I eventually found her, lying in a filthy alley, the disease had already done its work. She died in squalor and in pain, while I was sleeping. And then I was alone." He paused, briefly, thinking back over the centuries. "I vowed I would never again open myself up to such grief. Until her death I had tried to retain some semblance of humanity, of feeling, and she helped me in that, but afterwards I deliberately suppressed any of the softer emotions. I pursued power single-mindedly. Many women loved me, and I enjoyed their bodies and sometimes their company, but I never allowed any of them into my heart, and I never allowed them to feed on me. I became less and less human, and more and more ruthless, using and discarding women as their usefulness came to an end or as I grew bored with them. Apart from Pam, whom I turned, I kept my vow for six hundred years, right up until I met you, my lover. You changed me, and I still don't know how." He smiled at me, tenderly.

"Tell me about it." I really wanted to hear the words. Yes, it was self-indulgent, yes, it was shallow, and yes, I was going to enjoy every minute of it. Eric didn't open up like this very often.

He reached out and stroked my hair, running his long white fingers through the tangles.

"When I first saw you, in that little red-and-white summer dress, you looked so different from everyone around you; somehow fresh and innocent, like a white flower growing in a dark forest. I found you sexually very attractive and was mildly annoyed that Bill had pronounced you his. I was intrigued when I found I couldn't glamour you…" here I interrupted him.

"So you were trying to glamour me! I thought so! I could feel it, but I had no idea what you wanted. Bill said you shouldn't even have been doing that since you knew I was his. He said it was a breach of vampire etiquette."

He had the grace to look slightly embarrassed.

"Er, yes, he's quite right. I shouldn't have, but I couldn't resist teasing him a little. He's always so uptight."

"So what were you trying to get me to do?"

Eric grinned. "I was trying to glamour you into losing your temper and throwing your drink over him, and then storming outside, where I would have been waiting to comfort you."

"Well, I hope you're thoroughly ashamed of yourself, Eric Northman! And it would have served you right if I'd just left you to be caught in that police raid. "

"It would indeed. Your advance warning was the first hint of your…unusual qualities. Then, of course, I saw you as a tool which could be potentially very useful to me, and which would enhance my power and status, so I set myself to winning your trust, with the intention of removing you from Bill's influence. But you would not come to me. You could not be glamoured, bribed, seduced or frightened into leaving Bill's protection. It was a unique experience; for the first time in nearly a thousand years, I could not simply take what I wanted.

I found it hugely frustrating but also quite piquant. I began to feel that you were worthy of pursuit, and I studied you more closely, as a hunter studies his prey. I saw your courage, your independent spirit, your sense of fun, your innate decency. Of course I also saw that you were incredibly desirable, and I wanted to fuck you in the worst way, but it was more than that. Just thinking about you – and I found myself doing that far more often than I wanted to – stirred old, forgotten feelings in me. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be human, but I found myself looking for ways to please you. The fact that I couldn't have you made you even more attractive. I did not believe you were indifferent to me – the few times we had been physically close, your body had responded even if your mind and heart had not – and then I lost my memory and you took me in, even though I had previously manipulated and exploited you shamelessly, and those days were some of the best of my long life. I experienced emotions I had not felt in centuries, and I was … happy.

Even though my memory came back and we went back to our old lives, things were different between us. When you became my bonded in Rhodes, I thought things would improve, but it was worse. I now had a small insight into your feelings, but not enough – I was incredibly frustrated. I found myself wanting to protect you, to care for you, simply to be with you. Your well-being mattered to me. I had bought you a new coat and had your drive mended, but these were small and trivial things, costing me only money, of which I have more than I can spend. I wanted to do so much more for you. Every night when I woke my first thought was of you, and every dawn I fell asleep with your image in front of my eyes. Eventually, when I found myself sitting at my desk re-reading the same contract three times without taking in any of it, because I had been wondering what you were doing, I realised that I had been betrayed by my feelings. Suddenly, I cared more about your happiness than about my own, and that was when I knew I was in love with you. That was why I promised that I would never turn you, even though in making that promise, I knew I was condemning myself to endless centuries of sorrow and loneliness." He paused, then rolled on top of me and looked down, smiling. "But we have many years together first, so let's make the most of them." His hands began to drift down my body and gently stroke my thigh. OK Sookie. This was it. No going back.

"I've changed my mind."

"What about, dear heart?" He was nuzzling my ear and his words were a little muffled.

"About being turned. I want you to."

"What?" He jerked upright and his hands ceased their motion. His blue gaze was suddenly very piercing. He scanned my face, trying to make sense of what he had just heard.

"I want you to turn me. I don't ever want to leave you. I want to belong to you for ever."

"Sookie, are you serious? You're not ….you're not teasing me?" The expression of mingled doubt and hope on his face was painful to see.

"I wouldn't tease you over something like this, Eric. I want to be a vampire. Well, actually I really don't, but I want to be with you and if that's the only way I can do it, then bring it on." I sat up in bed and looked at him seriously. "I've been thinking about this for a while now. I've spoken to a lot of other vamps, just discreetly, sounding them out about what it means, what the implications are, and I've decided that this is what I want." My voice faltered, suddenly less sure of myself as he remained silent. What if he didn't really want this? Had I misread the situation? A cold feeling filled me as he continued to stare at me, motionless. "Eric? Honey? Have I made a mistake? I thought this was what you wanted. Was I wrong? I'm real sorry if I've upset you in some way, but I thought…" my voice tailed away miserably.

Then I was in his arms and being crushed against his chest, his huge hand pressing my head to his shoulder. Eventually he released me and I could see scarlet streaks on his face. He was weeping.

He said hoarsely. "My darling, you have no idea how I've longed to hear you say those words." His arms gripped me again like iron bands and he held me close. I was breathless, but unbelievably happy. The broadest smile I had ever seen wreathed his face. His fangs were fully out and he could barely contain himself. He released me, wiped his eyes (on the sheet!) leaped from the bed and began pacing the room, words tumbling from him as he laid out his plans.

"We must arrange this very carefully. Your life will be very different from now on. It will take a little time to make all the preparations, but this must be done properly."

"Preparations? What do you mean, baby? What are you talking about? I thought you just took my blood and then gave me yours." He came back to the bed and sat briefly, holding my hands. "This is not going to be some furtive, sordid procedure in a back alley somewhere, my heart; this is going to be done properly. I am going to honour you as you should be honoured. It doesn't happen very often that a sheriff turns someone – maybe once in a hundred years – but there are protocols and precedents to be followed."

"Why doesn't it happen very often?"

"Well, new vampires are very high-maintenance. They require a lot of time and attention to ensure that they make the transition safely – both for themselves and for others. Sheriffs are usually too busy to do this properly, and it's not a task that can be delegated. A new vampire answers only to his or her maker, and no-one else would have the authority to prevent them from running wild and doing harm to our community. But you would be different."

"Why?"

"The biggest part of the adjustment between human and vampire is nearly always the culture shock – the learning new ways, adapting to new priorities, new associates, new loyalties. But you've spent so much time with me and at Fangtasia that this would not be nearly so difficult for you; you're quite familiar with our ways. Also, you have had so much of my blood that I strongly suspect that you are already part-vampire." He was pacing the room again.

"So, I don't get any extra attention?" I pouted and he turned and looked at me.

"My lover, you will be my first priority, now and for ever. In fact, I think a little extra attention may be called for right now." His voice sank to a growl as he approached the bed and there was a certain look in his eyes which I loved to see, but right now there were more important things to discuss. "Hold your horses, mister. I think we have a few more things to discuss first." The slight acidity in my tone brought him back to earth. He paused and then smiled, and said,

"Of course, you're absolutely right. I was just so happy I couldn't help myself. How would it be if I were to tell you the various customs and then you can decide if you want to follow any of those traditions or do things entirely differently?"

"Ok, honey. I just need to visit the bathroom and then I'll be right back."

He smiled again. "That's something you won't need to worry about when you are vampire." He was right, of course. I paid my visit and then wrapped myself in my bathrobe and came back to sit in a chair, watching him while he prowled the room. He seemed unable to sit still for more than a few seconds – I had never seen him so energised except when in battle. I loved watching him. Well, he was six-foot-four, he was built like a Greek god and he was stark naked. What's not to like?

"Let me fill you in on what actually happens. To bring you over, I have to drain you of all your blood, and then just at the point of death, give you my blood to replace it. You then fall into a sleep resembling death. It used to be that you were then buried and at some point over the next few nights you would rise vampire, but that was a bit hit-and-miss. We discovered centuries ago that if your maker shared the grave with you, in close physical contact with you, the period was substantially shortened. Somehow my essence passes into you, nobody really understands how it works and it doesn't involve sex – just a close embrace - and exactly 24 hours later you rise. These days most people use a coffin rather than a grave. It's as simple as that. But there are two things you must know." Here he grew very serious, for a moment, and looked at me intently, trying to impress his words on me. "Firstly, there is sometimes a…" he paused, trying to find the correct words. "A…change in personality. People can be very different after they become vampire. It doesn't always happen – Pam, for example, was exactly the same before and after being brought over, and so was I, more or less. I think there is not much danger of change for those with a strong personality, and you certainly have that, my lover." There was a rueful smile on his face; he'd experienced my "strong personality" on many occasions, but he usually called it something else. Stubborn, pig-headed, and idiotic were just three of the milder terms he had used. He continued, "however, there is another element of risk involved. Occasionally, very occasionally, the procedure goes wrong. The maker miscalculates the correct moment and leaves it too late to give his own blood. If that should happen, you would truly die. Are you willing to trust me enough to take that risk?" His intense blue eyes searched mine and I smiled at him. "I trust you, Eric. I will take any risk, to be with you." He smiled delightedly and continued. "The two parts of the ritual can be done privately or publicly. Sometimes we invite friends to witness it. How would you feel about that?"

Oh. Not a good idea. "I really don't think I would want my friends and family to see this. I don't know how they're gonna feel about the whole thing." Actually, I had a pretty good idea, and I didn't want to think about it right then.

"Maybe you're right. Humans often find such ceremonies a little offputting. Would you rather we did the whole thing privately?" I could tell he wanted to show me off to the whole world, but he was willing to go along with my wishes. I was touched at this thoughtfulness.

"How about we do the draining (ick!) part privately, and then you can invite whoever you want to the…."

"The rising."

"Yeah. The rising. Would that work for you, honey? Then all your vamp friends and associates wouldn't feel slighted in any way."

"That sounds an excellent idea. I could invite the king as well. Then you could offer him fealty immediately. That is something you would have to do sooner or later, as a new vampire living in his kingdom, and it would save us a trip to Las Vegas."

"This fealty thing. I've seen it done, in Rhodes, but what does it involve?"

"Well, as you know, vampires live in a loosely hierarchical society. Over the centuries we have found that to be the most efficient way of co-existing. Each area is controlled by a sheriff – me in this case – and I hold my area directly from the king. In return for his protection and authority I have to offer fealty to him – that is an oath of loyalty and obedience. Every vampire who wishes to live in my area must offer me fealty, which in turn means it is offered to the king through me. Senior vampires must swear directly to the king, and that would include you, as my consort."

"Your consort?"

"My wife, partner, spouse, whatever phrase you wish to use. Since we were pledged with the knife, that is what you are."

"But I've never had to swear loyalty before."

"As a human you were outside our power structures, but as a vampire you must live within them. Does this trouble you?" He was concerned, and came to kneel next to the chair I was seated in.

"No, not really, but I think I would like to understand a bit more about the whole maker-child bond thing. You know, the compulsion to obedience stuff?"

"Yes?"

"Well, if you're my maker, how will that affect our relationship? I mean, I don't see myself as your child, I'm your lover, your girlfriend, your wife, if you insist. I want to be your equal, not your slave, particularly when we're in bed together."

He laughed softly.

"Oh, my Sookie. It would be a braver man than I who attempted to enslave you. You would certainly be required to obey me in public, but in the bedroom… that is a different matter altogether." I raised an eyebrow, cynically. "You don't believe me? I will prove it to you. Command me, mistress, and I shall obey."

"Well… I'm getting a bit chilly; I could use a blanket."

There was a blur of movement, and a fresh fluffy blue blanket from the airing closet was being placed tenderly about my shoulders.

"Anything else, my lady?"

"A cuddle would be nice." In an instant he had scooped me up in his arms and was holding me tenderly as he returned with me to the bed, discarding my bathrobe and leaning with his back against the headboard. I sighed and leaned against him, warm, safe, loved. "Tell me more about the ceremony."

"Before we do this, there are a number of decisions you will have to make, my love," he said. "You will have to decide if you wish to continue working at Merlotte's. And if so, you will have to inform the shifter that you can only cover the night-shift from here on in. Then you must decide what to do about this house. Will you sell it and move in with me or retain it as a base for yourself, or hire it out? I know how you value your independence, and so the decisions are yours to make. Also, you will have to find some way of telling your friends and your brother what you are planning, and there I am afraid I cannot help you. I am sorry, but this is something you are best equipped to do. If I tried they would resent it. I have seen this before. However, if they take it badly I will support and comfort you." He shifted slightly, a faintly uneasy expression crossed his face.

"Then before the actual ceremony, you would do well to ensure that your body is in the condition you wish to take into eternity." I must have looked puzzled, so he elaborated; "You are fortunate, Sookie, because you will be able to choose your time and place of entering on your new life; the majority of vampires are turned against their will and so have no opportunity to make these choices. For example, the day before I met Ocella I had been away raiding for some time and so had quite a heavy beard, that I shaved off for my visit to Gudrun's homestead. Had I been turned while wearing that, it would still be with me. Do you think you could have loved me with a beard?" He smiled at me, and I wrinkled my nose as I tried to picture him with his face half-hidden by wiry golden bristles, but I couldn't do so. "Therefore, decide on the length of hair you wish to have, and attend to any other…er… personal matters of a similar nature." His voice changed and I turned to look at him. I couldn't believe it. The Viking vampire was embarrassed! I smiled to myself and asked him innocently,

"I'm not sure what you mean, Eric."

"Well, I was thinking of things like plucking your eyebrows, trimming your fingernails to your preferred length, er, depilating any relevant areas, that sort of thing." I couldn't resist teasing him a little further.

"Do you have any preferences in that line? Would you rather I shaved my legs and armpits or not? And what about getting any other bits trimmed or waxed?" He looked so uncomfortable that I relented.

"Seriously, tell me and I'll make sure I'm beautiful for you for ever."

"You could never be anything but beautiful to me." He looked down at me and I lost myself for a moment in the fathomless blue of his gaze. But only for a moment.

"Eric, please answer me. I want to get this right and I will only have one chance. In fact, I would remind you that we are in the bedroom right now so….as your mistress, I command you to tell me your preferences." He stared at me, and I held his gaze for a few seconds, and then grinned. He smiled back, reassured, and said,

"Very well, mistress. Truthfully, although I prefer your body and limbs to be smooth and silky, I find unshaven armpits very erotic. It's a European thing. It would please me greatly if you allowed that hair to grow just a little."

"You got it. Anything else?"

"No my sweet; you are just perfect as you are."

"Then let's do this thing."

"Very well. It is too near dawn now, but I will start making phone-calls first thing tomorrow night. We will invite every vampire in my area." He paused. "Except for Bill Compton, of course."

Okayyyy. Here we go. Somehow I knew this was going to be a sticking-point for Eric. "Why not Bill?" I was not really surprised; the antagonism between them had seethed under the surface for way too long, but I felt I was entitled to an explanation, rather than just being presented with his decision.

"As your former lover he is already more closely connected to you than I like. I can do nothing about this short of killing him, which by the way I would be more than happy to do, but I will not have him near you if I can avoid it." Eric's tone of voice was imperious.

"Don't you think that's a bit of an over-reaction?" I was still trying to be reasonable about this. I could see his viewpoint, but I wanted to know if he could see mine.

"Not at all. Once you become vampire, you will be a lot more sensitive to blood-exchanges, both past and present, and it is possible that your old attachment to him may re-awaken. Think of his response to Lorena, his maker, even after eighty years. You know such connections are always more powerful when emotions are involved." He said the word with a slight distaste, as though referring to something faintly disgusting which would not normally be mentioned in polite society.

I tried again to bring some sense to the conversation.

"Eric, I haven't exchanged blood with Bill for well over a year. I've only seen him once since the fae war, and I felt no emotional attachment to him at all, even when he suggested…" Ah oh. As soon as I'd said the words I realised I'd made a mistake. Eric's head whipped round with the speed of a velociraptor scenting prey and his eyes zero-ed in on me in that completely unnerving way vampires have when you are the sole focus of their attention. He hadn't known that I'd been over to see Bill when he got silver-poisoning rescuing me from the fae torturers. He certainly wasn't aware that Bill had suggested we have sex in order to aid his recovery.

"Even when he suggested what?"

I tried to meet his gaze, but couldn't. I looked down and muttered, "nothing."

Silence. I didn't dare look up, but I felt his displeasure through the bond. Eventually he spoke, and there was stern master vampire in every measured word. This was the sheriff of Area Five speaking.

"No, Sookie. I am afraid this will not do. I do not lie to you and I do not expect you to lie to me. I am aware that you have been brought up in a tradition of freedom of speech and action, and for this reason I have allowed you a great many liberties that I would not tolerate from anyone else. If you wish you may refuse to answer my question, but you may not insult me, and demean yourself, by lying. I will ask you again, and I suggest you think very carefully before you answer me. What did Bill Compton suggest when you visited him?" His slight accent was more marked, and his speech had become very precise. A definite danger signal, but I was too stubborn to pay heed.

"I'm not telling you. You have no right to pry into…." I stopped there. Even to myself I sounded like a petulant, whiny kid, but it was too late. I'd said the words and his eyebrows drew together; a sure mark of his displeasure.

"Then I will go to Compton's house and ask him." He got out of bed and began looking for his clothes. I gaped at him.

"But it's only a couple of hours 'till dawn."

"That will be sufficient time." He pulled on his T-shirt and jeans and did up the belt, then began hunting for his shoes.

"I'm sure he won't remember – it was ages ago."

"Then I will find a way to stimulate his memory."

"Eric, what are you going to do?" He glanced up at me as he put on his shoes. His eyes were as cold as the North Sea, and I could feel a chill overlaying the heat of the anger coming through the bond.

"If he will not tell me the truth I will torture him until he does." My eyes widened in horror.

"Eric, no! You can't do that!"

"Yes I can." He reached for his leather jacket and turned to the door. I was out of bed and standing in front of him with close to vampire speed.

"I won't let you!"

He cocked an eyebrow, looking down from his ten inches superiority in height. "How do you propose to stop me?" He had a point. Desperately I sought for something to say, anything that would slow down this train of events which my big mouth seemed to have set in motion. Maybe if I could get him to put his plans off until tomorrow night I could find a way to change his mind.

"You won't get him to tell you in just two hours. You know he lasted nearly a week when he was being tortured at Russell's!" Eric smiled, mirthlessly.

"They were amateurs. Had I been there, he would have broken in less than a day."

I backed away from him, putting my back against the door. He would have to go through me to get out. Not that I had any illusions about his ability to do so, but I was hoping our relationship might make him hesitate. Mind you, at the moment I wasn't any too sure about that. I cast around for something to say. I had to keep him talking. The longer he stayed here, the less likelihood there was of his reaching Bill tonight.

"Are you saying you've had a lot of experience torturing people?"

"Don't be naive, Sookie." His expression was one of exasperation. "I have lived for a millennium. Do you really think in all that time I have not learned everything there is to know about pain as well as pleasure? Have you ever seen the effect on a vampire of just a pinch of powdered silver in the right place? The tongue, for example, or the eyes?"

I shook my head mutely, wanting him to stop, but he ignored my reaction and continued. "Well, I have. It is not pretty. You've heard of the Spanish Inquisition? Who do you think trained their inquisitors? I, and others like me. Even the fairies who… worked on you, were children compared to me. I guarantee you that by dawn Compton will be grovelling at my feet, begging to be allowed to tell me everything, and believe me, he will wish he had more to tell me."

That was a train of thought I really didn't want to follow. I shuddered but tried to think of something else to distract him. "But you haven't got any powdered silver, right?" This sounded lame even to me, but I had to keep him here somehow.

"I can find everything I will need in his kitchen. Or his tool-shed." Eric's voice was grim. I began to sob, but my tears had no effect. He simply looked down at me, his face stony. I put my hands on his chest and pushed, but it was like trying to move a solid wall. I put my arms around him, trapping his and holding on for dear life, but he broke my grip with no effort at all, then simply lifted me out of his way. He wasn't unkind; he was simply unstoppable. "Please Eric, don't do this! I'm begging you." He paused, his hand on the doorknob.

"Either he tells me or you do. Would you rather be the one under my knife?" His face was implacable.

"No!" I gasped, as the cruelty of his words lit a fire of recollection in my brain. Less than a year ago, I had actually been under the knives of two torturers, who were very skilled, whatever he might say.

"Then it must be Bill." He opened the door.

"Alright, I'll tell you!" At that he turned.

"You will tell me everything? I will know if you are lying."

"Yes, but there's really not that much to tell. It's no big deal, really."

"Then why not tell me when I first asked?" I didn't really have an answer to that, so I didn't reply. He closed the door and leaned against the wall next to it, his arms folded across his chest, waiting. I was shivering.

"Won't you come back to bed?"

"No thank you." He was icily polite, but I knew through the bond that the fires were only banked down. It really wouldn't take much for them to blaze up again.

"Well, I'm going to get back in bed. I'm cold."

"That would be because you are naked." Well, thanks for the newsflash, Eric. I didn't say it out loud, but I knew he felt my sarcasm through the bond. An eyebrow drifted up half an inch, but there was no other reaction. I climbed back under the covers and pulled them up to my chin, mopping my eyes on the sheet. I felt marginally safer there, but I knew that was just an illusion. He waited silently.

"Won't you even come and sit down? I can't talk to you all the way over there." He hesitated and then took a seat in a wicker chair near the bed.

"Now tell me. What happened?"

"Well, Sam told me Bill was still ailing, so I just called in, neighbourly-like. Oh Eric, he looked awful. He's still real sick." Eric's expression said he really didn't care.

"Did he touch you?"

"What? No, of course not."

"Did you touch him?" It cost Eric something to ask that question, I could tell.

"Well, I kissed him goodbye, but that was all. Just a peck on the cheek." He digested that for a minute.

"Go on."

"I only stayed about ten minutes, and by the time I left he was looking some better. He said it was my fae blood; just the proximity, the being close to me helped him. Then he…" I paused. Eric leaned forward in his chair.

"Then he…what?" I rushed at the last sentence, to get it over with.

"He said if we had sex it would really help his healing, but that was all, honestly, Eric. I said no, and he didn't push it. I just left. Nothing happened, I swear! I haven't even seen him since." I was babbling, I knew, dismayed at Eric's reaction. He was on his feet, his lips drawn back in a snarl so that I could see his fully extended fangs, his blue eyes fixed unblinkingly on mine. Eventually he spoke.

"Sookie, think very carefully. The answer to this question is extremely important. Was the… sex his suggestion or yours?"

"His, but I don't think he was serious…" I paused, shaken by the look on Eric's face.

"Then I am afraid the matter is out of my hands."

"What do you mean?"

"By making such a suggestion to someone who is pledged to another, Bill has broken one of the strongest taboos in vampire culture. Had it been before he found out about our pledging, he could have been excused, but he knew. I told him myself. He will have to face a tribunal."

"What? He didn't mean it, I'm sure, and I keep telling you nothing happened."

"Sookie, that doesn't matter." Eric sounded tired. "Do you remember I told you when we were pledged that no-one could touch you without my prior consent, on pain of final death? Well, what fate do you think is reserved for someone who doesn't just touch, but attempts to seduce his sheriff's wife? He is lucky that you did not accept his offer. If you had, the blood code would have required me to hunt him and you down and torture you both to death! You would have been a year dying."

A year! ... I fell back on my pillow, my hands clutching at my chest as though I was having a heart-attack. His words had punched a hole clean through a carefully constructed barrier in my mind, and conjured up a hideous vision of my time with Neave and Lochlan, the fae torturers. That had lasted only a couple of hours, but it had seemed so much longer. My heart was pounding, the scars from the worst day of my life burned, my breath came short and tears began to run down my face. I stared at Eric, and suddenly, to my horror, it was Lochlan standing there, looking at me. I gasped his name in terror and tried to scramble out of the bed but was tangled in the sheets. I was caught! He reached for me and I screamed again, "get away, get away! Eric! Eric! Help me!" Hands grasped at me and I screamed and thrashed about in blind panic. Through the bond I felt Eric leave the room and knew I had been abandoned. Just as on that awful day, I was alone, helpless, vulnerable, lost in my pain and fear. My vision faded as I slipped deeper into a nightmare of blood and screaming, and then blessed darkness took me.