Chapter One: Sucker for a Sad Song
I should have known from the very first moment I saw him. The way his sinewy body stood wrapped so strong yet so fragile around his guitar, strumming as though his heart would burst through his chest if he relaxed his grip even for a moment. I wanted to comfort him, to soothe his pain in any way that I could, while running my hands through his messy shoulder length hair. I imagined our bodies pressed together in a delicious sweaty haze, all limbs and mouths and tongues.
His long longs encased in slightly baggy jeans, a white v-neck t-shirt which revealed the muscles of his upper body and large black boots; he looked like no man I had ever known. I stood there staring up at him, just as I imagine every other woman in the room was, feeling inadequate. There was nothing my short, stumpy frame could ever do to entice him. My long, blond hair was wild in waves that came down around my shoulders and brushed against my elbows, getting in the way of my every movement. No, sweet little Sookie Stackhouse could do nothing but stare up at this man envisioning what those large, rough hands would feel like knotted in my hair, trailing down my back, pulling me closer to him.
It was then, when I had that exact thought, that I should have known this man would break my heart. Why are we all such fools?
My friend Pam had dragged me out that night against my will. I was recovering from a recent breakup and while I had been far from in love with the guy I was still experiencing minor (read: total) dejection and had holed myself up for a week. Pam had found me sitting at my small kitchen table inhaling a store-bought pecan pie, something that always reminded me of home, when she dragged me by my wrist to my bedroom declaring she had had enough of my shit. After the majority of my wardrobe found a new home on the floor I was finally dressed to her liking in a black, strapless mini-dress. Forcing me into peep toe pumps and practically snapping my back as she ripped my hair from its elastic and flung my head down to shake out my curls she gathered my belongings, shoved them into an oversized clutch and pushed me out the door.
That was how I found myself in the club I had never set foot in before, nursing a gin and tonic with lime, trying not to feel too uncomfortable even though I was practically naked and staring up at the god of a man. His eyes were closed tight as he sang a song so sad it had my stomach in knots and I thought for a brief moment that I would cry for him and his lost love. He wailed and screamed his way through a Hank Williams cover making him sound no way I had ever heard Hank Williams sound and I leaned into Pam, gripping her arm with a power I didn't know I possessed and in a voice I didn't recognize as my own I told her I was in love.
"He's like an angel, Pam."
"His name is Eric. He plays here every Thursday night."
"His voice—" I was out of complete thoughts.
"Fuck his voice, have you seen his ass?" We were having our conversation screaming in each other's ears while still watching him on stage. His fingers pressed so hard into the strings that I perversely thought if he cut himself how I would love to suck the blood from his fingers.
"No, Pam. He's in pain, can't you hear it?"
Pam rolled her eyes deeply into the back of her head. "You're so weird, Sookie."
I watched with rapt fascination as he finished out his set, carefully placed his guitar down on a stool behind him and ran his palms down the length of his thighs.
"Thanks." Was all he said in a bashful way that belied the man who had stood there only moments before singing as if his soul was burning. He ducked his head and walked off the small stage straight to the bar where I watched as the bartender said something I couldn't make out before placing a shot glass in front of his and filling it swiftly with whiskey.
"Go talk to him," Pam urged, trying not so subtly to shove me in his direction.
"No, Pam," I hissed back, raising my drink slightly above my head in an attempt to find balance and not spill a drop. Pam felt that the best way to get over a guy was to fuck every other one that walked across your path. It had worked quite successfully for her in her own opinion, but I had a deeply held belief that Pam was emotionally fucked up beyond repair. She never complained, though, so I let her deal with things her own way and for the most part she respected that we were different people with different ways of doing things.
I had met Pam back in college. I had made it my mission in life from a very young age to get as far away from the south as possible. It wasn't that I didn't like it; it just never felt like I quite fit in. College in New York was my first opportunity to put small town life behind me, but when I got there I felt lost and alone among the sea of self-assured young adults. I was shy and had never ventured far outside the confines of my hometown. My social skills were there, but hidden behind a quiet uncertainty that I couldn't break away from. The first week at school I spent tucked away in a corner avoiding eye contact with anyone and everyone. It wasn't until Pam approached me one day in the cafeteria that everything changed.
In a brazen move that I would soon learn was classic Pam, she slammed her tray on the table opposite of me, sat down gracefully and with a Cheshire-cat smile said, "This place is a fucking dump." To say we were opposites is to put it mildly, but we complimented each other in the best of ways. She was loud when I was quiet, bold when I was shy, rude when I was unnecessarily polite. I reined her in and she gave me courage. We have been friends ever since.
I was still fighting off her pushy hands when I noticed her expression changed and she was no longer concerned with me. Turning around to see what she was looking at I practically smacked straight into the person standing behind me. My drink sloshed over the sides of the cheap plastic cup and I leapt back in an attempt to save the expensive shoes that Pam had insisted I wear since they made my ass look like "sex"—her words, not mine.
"Shit!" The words were out of my mouth before I heard the deep rumbling of his voice in his chest. Oh sweet Jesus, it was him. I was almost too afraid to look up as his hand reached out to steady me. "Sorry," I mumbled and pulled away before his fingers could touch me. I peeked up at him through my lashes and my breath caught in my throat. He was even more beautiful up close. And tall. So very tall.
"It's my fault. I should know better than to sneak up on beautiful women." His face broke out into a lazy but sexy lopsided smile and he did not sound apologetic in the least as his eyes raked up and down my body in the most lascivious nature possible. Suddenly I hated him. Who did this guy think he was? Perhaps I was too sensitive, still sore over my recent breakup, but I was turned off by his attitude and I found myself hating his good looks. The sad little boy act on stage clearly did not carry over into real life and I couldn't help but think he used it as an act to lure slutty women in before banging each and every last one of them. Ass.
I barely registered the fact that he was carrying on a conversation with Pam and it appeared as though the two of them knew each other. Pam certainly wasn't discriminating when it came to her sexual partners and I fumed with jealousy over their banter that insinuated a comfortable familiarity while they out and out ignored me. Quickly drowning the last of my drink and standing around awkwardly I decided that I had fulfilled my duties for the night and tried to attract Pam's attention as unobtrusively as I could.
"Hey, I'm taking off," I whisper-screamed into her ear.
"Do you want me to come?" Clearly she did not want me to say yes. I toyed briefly with being a bitch and telling her that yes, I did in fact want her to come with me and stop eye fucking the beautiful six foot plus man who had tempted me with a sensitive persona on stage only to be a cocky prick up close. The girl code would have demanded she accompany me home, but I couldn't be so cruel to my best friend. After all, she had only wanted me to come out to pull me from my mopefest.
"Stay," I insisted. "Have fun." I pulled her into a hug and kissed her on the cheek.
"I'll call you tomorrow with all the details," she purred suggestively into my ear. I wondered if she had slept with him before or if she was just hoping tonight was the night. As I walked away I felt her hand slap firmly against my ass. I shot her a chiding look over my shoulder and she winked. I shook my head at her, but laughed despite myself. As I pushed my way through the crowd I spotted couples embracing each other, tender kisses and pseudo pornographic fondling and I hated each and every single one of them for not being as alone as I felt at that moment.
It was late when I finally made it home and I fell into bed without a thought, asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
I wish I could say that the next time that Eric Northman and I crossed paths that it was magical, that he had mended his arrogant ways and swept me off my feet with his heart wrenching story of loves lost which conveniently explained his egotistical complex. That, however, wasn't the case.
Pam had called as promised the next day to fill me in on all the dirty details of her romp with Eric. It turned out they had only casually noticed each other through their mutual circle of friends and had never spoken before last night. I feigned interest as she rambled on and on about the importance of proportion on a man and something about hand to forearm ratio. I really wasn't listening at all, which normally would have been fine, but somewhere in between hello and that's nice and I'll talk to you later I agreed to go out with the both of them that night. I couldn't imagine why she would want me tagging along with her and her new fling and truth be told if I had been mentally invested in the conversation I would have politely begged off. Only I wasn't. And I didn't.
It was some time after nine and I was standing on a darkened street corner trying not to look desperate, hugging my arms to myself in an attempt to keep warm. The cold weather was coming on earlier than normal and though it was only mid-December it felt as though it were the dead of winter as the wind whipped around my body, robbing me of any semblance of warmth. I had almost decided on bailing yet again when I heard Pam's high-pitched voice keening through the night air. It was all I could do not to smile. Pam was not a relationship kind of girl for precisely this reason; she scared off most men before the second date. I made out the words inconsiderate and egomaniacal before they were standing beside me.
Pam's arm linked through mine and she began dragging me with her as she marched straight ahead without so much as a hello.
"Having a good night?" I asked cheerfully. When she looked over at me I gave her a large smile complete with wide-eyed innocence. She shot me a dirty look and kept on marching, picking up the pace so I had to practically run so I didn't trip on my own feet.
"Oh tonight's gonna be fun," I mumbled sarcastically as low as I could. I was acutely aware of Eric's towering form following closely to my opposite side. Bastard probably didn't even have to walk fast to keep up with us.
When we got to the bar Pam, who still hadn't let go of my arm, went straight to the bar and ordered six shots of Tequila. I groaned internally. Pam was well aware that Tequila and I were not the best of friends, yet she always ordered it. If I didn't love her so much I would hate her.
The bartender lined the shots up in front of us.
"48," he said gruffly.
"He's paying." Pam's hand waved in the general direction of Eric. He didn't say anything, but placed several bills down on the bar. I haughtily thought to myself that he deserved a little of Pam's ire, it would do him good.
"Pam—"I started to say, but she cut me off with a pleading look. We had always understood each other. Very few things needed to be spoken between Pam and I. I nodded slightly and took a deep breath, turning back to assess the shots. "All at once?"
"Bottoms up, kitten." The smirk on her face told me she knew exactly what she was doing. She wanted to have fun tonight and no one was more fun than TequilaSookie.
With a precision we had honed our first year as friends we slammed the shots down one after another, flipping the glasses down on the bar as proof we drank it all. I had had a habit of pussing out only drinking half the shot. As soon as Pam figured this out she had instituted the glass down rule and it had stuck ever since.
The liquid burned all the way down in the most delicious way. I had been a bit of a downer since breaking up with Quinn and I suddenly realized how badly I needed a night of fun with Pam, even if her fuck friend was standing awkwardly by without talking to either of us. After ordering a shot of his own he leaned over to Pam and said he would be back leaving us alone to talk about him.
"So…" I started.
She sighed in exasperation. "He's just—"
"An ass," I supplied helpfully.
"No, Sook. He's weird. Hot and cold. I don't know what to do with him. I actually thought the two of you would hit it off, but the way you acted with him last night I figured it wasn't going to happen."
"I waited an hour for him to show up at my work." Pam didn't wait for anyone, especially not for men.
"Are you dating him?"
"God no! No, we just hooked up. It's nothing."
"Then why is he here?" I knew already. Pam did this often. She didn't want an emotional attachment, but she wanted the illusion of dating: someone to hold doors, to pay for drinks without her having to flirt, someone tall next to her. It was not so much about the person as it was the comfort of the steps. She felt as though she should want these things so she did them, ultimately though she would end up hating the man she dragged into the situation in the first place. Like I said, Pam had issues.
She groaned. When Eric returned she ordered two more shots and I downed mine without question. I needed to let loose and if Tequila was going to help me do that then I was game. I could be fun.
In truth I couldn't be fun. I was probably the most unfun twenty six year old woman in the city. It wasn't that I was a prude; I was just terminally responsible and felt much older than my years. It caused issues in my dating life, most recently with my ex-boyfriend John Quinn. I had met him at function for the magazine I was working for at the time. I had spent most of my twenties as a freelance writer for fashion and culture magazines, content to work at my own pace on things that interested me. I had been offered a semi-steady position at an incredibly snooty fashion magazine and despite my better judgment I accepted. It was only for a short run of a series I was writing, but in the course of that assignment I had been invited to a major soiree. I hadn't had any particular interest in attending, but once Pam had caught wind of my invitation we were both dressed and eating an incredibly disgusting unidentifiable appetizer before I could protest.
The night had been particularly painful and as I was about to cut out early I tripped over another woman's heels and fell directly into John Quinn's arms. He was large and strong, bald but in a sexy, sophisticated way. I was swept away with his adoration and actually allowed myself to believe that I could settle for him until one night a couple of weeks ago I walked in on him pounding a girl from behind in the bed we shared. Needless to say that he moved out that night and I hadn't spoken to him since. Looking back on it I knew that I had never loved him, but at this point in my life I had convinced myself that love was an imaginary emotion that people had hyped up via the media to make every single woman in the world feel like there was something wrong with her because she didn't want to lay herself at the feet of a man.
Happiness was a choice that we made. One either decided to be happy or unhappy. Everything else was just fairy tales. But after seeing Quinn giving it to a brunette on all fours I realized he wasn't going to aid me in that decision and I would rather be happy by myself than force myself to pretend to be happy with someone else.
So that was how I found myself in a bar on a Friday night with Pam flirting up a storm with a random man while I stood next the man she had brought there. To say I was surprised when she left the two of us standing there would be a blatant lie. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this was Pam's intention all along, she had after all tried to push me on him last night. She thought nothing of testing the goods before she handed them over and if I had actually wanted to sleep with Mr. I-fake-that-I-am-sensitive-to-get-into-women's-panties I might have been offended, but I was mostly just thinking about how I wanted to leave as soon as possible.
"Does she do this often?" His voice startled me. I had been mapping my escape route and now I feared I was actually going to have to engage with him. On the bright side he didn't seem upset or surprised, so perhaps we were just going to laugh about it and go our separate ways.
"Not any more than you, I'm sure." Oh, fucking Tequila. I just couldn't stop myself and the words were out before I could even tell myself not to say them. I watched his face register shock and he motioned to the bar tender for two more shots without looking at me.
"You don't know me." He said it quietly, but his tone held a defensive edge and I immediately regretted being such a bitch.
"Sorry. I didn't mean it." I did.
The bartender placed two more shots in front of us and even though I knew it was against my better judgment I lifted the glass to my lips and tossed it back. As I placed the glass down on the bar I felt myself sway forward the slightest bit and turned to face Eric just a little too quickly as the world spun around me.
"I am drunk," I said in what I thought was a relatively normal voice, though I am sure I was yelling just a bit too loudly.
"Awesome," came his steely reply. After that things got very blurry.