A/N: Hello, friends! I would have liked to have more of this story in the hopper before I started posting, but y'all were so great with the feedback to the last chapter of Dead On that I thought I'd give you a treat to show my appreciation. The first two chapters are longer than are typical for me, but I'm sure you won't complain, right?

~Prologue~

~Eric~

"So after I was done fucking the queen…"

"Do I really want to hear this, Pam?"

"I thought you liked Sophie Anne."

"Only because I have to in order to live in Louisiana."

"Do you want to hear what I have to say or not?" My progeny demanded, hands on her hips. I really should have thought it through better before making Pam. She's beautiful sure and a loyal companion, but a high maintenance woman. Most days she's lucky the bond between maker and child is so strong. And I'm sure as shit glad I never made another one.

"If I must."

"This is important, Eric."

"It's gossip, Pam." I countered, letting her know by the tone of my voice I was bored to death, ha ha.

"Well, if the fact that Sophie Anne is sending Bill Compton to Bon Temps to procure a human girl from your area is merely gossip then I'll forget I ever heard it." She ended with a dramatic sigh and returned to the paperwork she abandoned when I walked into the bar that night.

"A human? What human? Why? She didn't tell me any of this."

"I thought you weren't interested?"

"Pamela…" I growled. I didn't bother issuing a further threat. She knew I'd never hurt her, but likewise knew instead I'd make her do something she found unpleasant.

"Her name is Sookie Stackhouse and she works in a hole in the wall named Merlotte's in a little mudhole town that God forgot named Bon Temps." Pam said dryly.

"Why does the queen want her?"

"I have no idea."

"How do you know this?"

"The queen's favorite pet, Hadley. She's the girl's cousin and after I finished with the queen…"

I held my hand up. I didn't need the play by play.

"You handle things here tonight." I called over my shoulder, heading for the door.

"And what are you going to be doing?"

"I'm going to go find the girl and discover why the queen wants her."

~OOOOO~ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

1.

~Eric~

This place is a fucking pit. A little pissant hole in the wall in a little pissant town. And what is that coming out of the juke box? Is that…what is that? Twang? It smells like bad beer, cigarettes and fried food. This is where the girl works? Who here could possibly have piqued the queen's interest in this way?

There was a shifter working behind the bar. I doubt anyone here knew what he really was. Vampires were the only supernatural beings that had revealed themselves to the rest of the world. Pam texted me that Bill Compton had checked in at Fangtasia like a good vampire and was still there.

A washed up woman with a bad red dye job yelled from the bar back into the kitchen. "Sookie! New table in your section!"

"Thanks, Arlene! I'll be right out!"

Arlene didn't seem to want to get too close to me. That was all right. I didn't really care. Humans were still very apprehensive around vampires and for good reason. We may have come out of the coffin, but half the crap Nan Flanagan was spouting off on television was a load of propaganda bullshit.

I supported the mainstreaming movement only because it made business dealings easier. Pam and I had vast holdings and they took up a lot of our time. Having the bar as home base let your food and sexual entertainment walk right up to you though admittedly, humans have bored me as of late (and by 'late' I meant the last century or so). They were all the same and the ones that came into the bar were generic and depressing.

Little did I know that in the next second, that was all going to change.

She burst into the main bar area like a comet. She stopped at the end of the bar. A blonde man on the end kissed her on the cheek. She looked happy to see him. She gave him a hug and a smile that could light the whole room on fire. She was trying to give the young man her full attention, but she kept looking at the man sitting at the table next to them. When she glanced in the redneck's direction, she looked annoyed. He seemed to have offended her in some manner though what exactly happened, I couldn't say. He didn't speak. Even from the other side of the noisy bar, I would have heard him.

After another minute of this curious behavior, she picked up the beer on the man's table and tossed it in his face. He yelped and jumped up, swatting at his shirt. Well, that was surprising.

"God dammit, Sookie!" the shifter behind the bar swore.

"What'd you say to my sister?" her blonde companion demanded. So they were related. I was strangely relieved to discover that. I hadn't gotten the full look of her yet, but her hair looked like sunshine, her skin flawless and her curves sinful.

"Nothing." The man growled. I had a sudden, unexplainable urge to rip his arms off. All the humans in the vicinity were watching the scene with interest. Some started taking bets; 20 on the redneck; 20 on "Stackhouse." I watched the girl. Stackhouse decked the redneck.

"Jason!" the girl, Sookie, shrieked. She grabbed her brother and turned in my direction. I finally got my first full view of her.

And just like that, my world gained beauty.

"I'll be right with you, sir." She murmured as she passed by my table, her fingers grazing the wood. She dragged her brother behind a partition that was right behind my booth. I assumed she wanted privacy, but I, of course, could hear their hushed conversation with perfect clarity.

"What the fuck, Sook? Wanna tell me why I punched Trent?"

"You didn't have to, Jason." She hissed in return.

"I'd like to at least know what he said." Jason replied. There was a long pause before Jason swore. "Fuck."

"Jason-"

"God damn motherfucker, it happened again."

"I'm sorry, Jason."

"I can't deck every guy in town because of what they think, Sookie. I've gotten in more fucking fights because of this."

Because of what they think? Intriguing. So the brother knew the redneck Trent hadn't said anything either.

"Jason, I'm sorry. It's very busy here and -" She paused a minute and then continued defensively. "I did not realize he didn't say it out loud."

"Stay the fuck outta my head. And stay the fuck outta everyone else's head."

So she was a mind reader of some sort. A beautiful, young, human mind reader. Could she read the shifter? Could she read me?

Jason emerged from behind the partition and stormed back to the bar. Sookie paused just next to me and took a deep breath. She turned to me and smiled tightly. I gave no indication I heard the whole exchange. I looked up into her eyes, which were the color of a mid-winter sky as I remembered it from my human life.

Her breath caught in her chest and her heartbeat sped up as she looked at me. She knew immediately what I was and I was surprised again. It usually took humans longer to recognize a vampire in a setting like this.

"Good evening, sir. What can I get you?" Oh, that throbbing jugular looks promising…

"Are you Sookie Stackhouse?" I asked.

Her eyes widened. "Who wants to know?"

"I do."

"And you are?"

"Eric Northman, vampire sheriff of Area 5."

"What's Area 5?"

"Where you live."

"Bud Dearborn is our sheriff."

She was feisty and I was fascinated.

"He is the human sheriff."

"I didn't realize there was a vampire sheriff."

"Do you get many vampires here?"

"Are you investigating something?"

"I am."

She surprised me again by sticking her hand out to me. "It's nice to meet you."

"Vampires don't shake hands."

"Humans do; you're in a human establishment. You wouldn't want to be rude, would you?"

I found myself doing something very uncharacteristic and shaking her hand. The air was hot and charged with electricity and she sucked in her breath when I took her hand. "Holy cheese and rice, this is amazin'."

"Excuse me?"

"I can't hear you."

"I said, 'excuse me?'"

"No, I heard that I -"

"Sookie! Order up!" yelled a ragingly gay black man from the kitchen.

"I'm sorry, I have to -" She scrambled. "Don't go anywhere, okay?"

"I wouldn't dream of it."

"I'm sorry. Did you want something to drink? Sam stocks some of that TrueBlood. He doesn't stock a lot because we don't get vampires, but I think there's some back there."

"I'm fine, Miss Stackhouse."

"Are you sure? If you don't have something to drink, you're not going to…" She glanced nervously around her and I couldn't help myself.

I leaned forward and looked up at her. "Pick off one of the customers? No, not likely."

"I'm sorry. That was…it's just you're…"

"You're first vampire." I finished sitting back again. "I'm not offended, Miss Stackhouse."

"Please call me Sookie."

"If you prefer." I nodded.

"Sookie! Ding, fucking ding, Hookah! Get your fine fucking ass over here and pick up this food!"

That one needed a lesson in manners.

She rushed off to the kitchen. She looked just as good going as she did coming. I watched her rush around to catch up with her work. Every now and then, she appeared to be confused or struggling when someone spoke to her. Now that I knew she was some kind of mind reader, her strange mannerisms made more sense. It seemed almost like she was reacting to thoughts but trying desperately not to.

She seemed to be well-liked, but half of the people also seemed to be cautious around her; like they thought there was something not entirely right about her. I recognized this human instinct because it was the same one I was afforded when confronting new humans. It's what made the waitress Arlene wary of approaching me. It was a natural survival instinct of humans.

Arlene was friendly with her; the gay man loved to flirt raucously with her; the shifter was in love with her; the loud female bartender seemed very devoted to her; the brother was grudgingly protective of her and the other half of the town folk seemed to coddle her like they would the village idiot.

Her brother staggered out a while later with his companions. The redneck Trent was long gone. Around 11 o'clock, Sookie came back to my booth with her bag and slid in across from me.

"Can I get you something to drink now?"

"You just sat down." I noted.

"My shift's over. But you haven't wanted anything. Aren't you bored just sitting here?"

"No."

"You said you were investigating something. I don't know anything about vampires. I don't think I'll be much help to you."

I pushed at her mind. This would go a lot easier my way. She flinched a little, but I couldn't feel that I had gotten hold of her. I didn't understand; she was looking right at me.

"How did you know so quickly that I was a vampire?"

"You glow."

"Excuse me?"

She waved her finger around me and repeated, "You glow."

"I don't glow."

"You do to me." She shrugged. She seemed as intrigued by me as I was by her. "Would you mind if we went outside? There's a table out back and I don't like to linger too long when I'm not working."

"You want to go outside alone with a vampire?"

"I thought with the invention of the synthetic blood you didn't feed on humans."

I gave her an amazed half laugh. "You are sweet."

"Not really." She countered.

"How do you know you are safe with me?"

"I guess I don't." She said. "But you want something from me, so I know I'm at least safe until I figure out what it is."

I stood up from the booth and held my hand out to the side indicating she should go first. I followed her out the front door, mindful of the eyes that watched us and inhaled the wake of her scent as we walked. To the side of the parking lot, right on the tree line was a battered picnic table.

"So tell me…sheriff?"

"You may call me Eric."

"What are you investigating, Eric?"

"You."

"Excuse me?"

"Have you ever heard of Sophie Anne LeClerq?"

"No."

"She is vampire queen of Louisiana."

She blinked once and then laughed. "I'm sorry. Did you say queen?" I nodded and she laughed again. She seemed a little astonished. "A queen of Louisiana." I nodded again. "Is she like your governor?"

"She's more powerful than a human governor, more wealthy and more deadly." Sookie shifted a bit then. She finally seemed to show a little nervousness.

"Do all states have queens?"

"Some have kings."

"What does this have to do with me?"

"She has dispatched a vampire to procure you."

"You?"

"No."

"Why should I believe you?"

"You shouldn't."

"What are you doing here?"

"Our protocol dictates that I be informed if harm is to befall a human, vampire or other creature in my area. I was not. I learned of the queen's designs…through other channels. It made me curious as to why she would circumvent me. I came here tonight to see for myself."

"I see."

"Do you?"

"No, not really." She replied. I caught myself smiling. What was that? The third time I smiled at her tonight? That must be some sort of record. "You're the first vampire I ever met. Why would a vampire queen want anything to do with a waitress from Bon Temps?"

"Well, it's not a waitress she wants. I doubt she would be interested in your friend Arlene. I assume she wants you for your mindreading talents."

"What did you…how did you…" Her mouth dropped open and her eyes went wide. God dammit she was sweet. Her naiveté was so fucking endearing I wanted to stun her like that again. Why wouldn't she glamour? Was it because of her gift? And now that we were outside with the scents of the bar away from us, she smelled…incredible. She had a saccharine aroma to her, mixed with a floral scent and, if I wasn't mistaken, sunlight.

"My senses are more defined than yours, Sookie. I'm extremely observant. Is that what you meant before when you said you couldn't hear me?" I replied. She nodded her head vigorously. "Can you hear your boss?"

"I don't listen to him."

"But can you?"

"Yes, sometimes though he's not as easy as the others."

"Are you psychic?"

"Telepathic."

"That is why the queen wants you."

"Well, she will be disappointed." Sookie said. "I'm not her subject; I'm human. I'm not about to pick up and just go…where does she live?"

"New Orleans."

"I'm not going to New Orleans."

"Perhaps you missed the part where I said she was powerful?"

"You know, your lady is on tv all the time touting how misunderstood y'all are and how you mean humans no harm. This is what she means?"

"This is what she hides." I nodded.

"What's in it for you?" she suddenly demanded.

"What do you mean?"

"What do you get out of coming out here first?"

More than I bargained for, that was for sure.

"At the moment, nothing."

"And what if you 'procured' me first? Could you do that?"

Interesting idea. I was just curious when I got here, but the more time I spent with her, the more I wanted to know about her. How long was her hair out of that ponytail? Speaking of hair, was she blonde all over? Did she talk in her sleep? Did she have any more family other than the brother who bailed on her and left her to handle herself amongst a bunch of drunken men?

"I could."

"What does that entail?"

"A lot of shocking things."

"I'm not easily shocked."

"Little girl, you have no idea what really goes bump in the night."

That made her nervous, but she was too inquisitive to back off, so I showed her my fangs. She gasped and looked around her quickly, I'm sure to see if there was anyone close enough to help her.

"Wow, you're…real."

That's not what I thought she was going to say.

"Yes, and very dangerous. There are those of my kind that have no interest in being nice to you. You are a meal to them. You are a quick fuck to them."

"I am a lady!" She snapped back. That made me grin widely. She was a virgin. How did she get this far in life without sex? Were the men in Bon Temps incredibly stupid? They couldn't possibly be afraid of the brother.

"You are ripe for the picking." I shot back. Before she could get uppity about that, I caught the scent of another vampire. I was sure it was Bill Compton. I stood up, slung Sookie across my back and shot into the sky. She clung to me in terror and screamed her lungs out.

~Sookie~

Eric touched down right at the bottom of my front steps. I was whimpering and clutching him so hard, I was sure I'd leave nail marks in his skin.

We flew. He could fly. I never imagined something like that. I mean, I was airborne.

"This is where you live?" He asked easily looking around at my house.

"How did you know?"

"I didn't. This is where your scent was the strongest. I assumed you lived here or knew the owner very well."

"I – I live here." I stuttered still attached to his back. Should I have told him that?

"Don't be afraid, Sookie." He laughed. "Remember this: a vampire can't come into your house without an invitation."

"But they can slaughter me in my yard, right?" I retorted. He lost his humor.

"Yes, they can."

What was he doing here? Why had he really sought me out tonight? And Jesus Christ his body felt amazing underneath mine. I was intoxicated by the silence of his mind. It was like a breath of fresh air. Of course, that meant I didn't know if he wanted to kill me or not.

"Sookie, you can get down now." He said.

"Uh-huh." I squeaked but made no attempt to move. I think I was literally frozen to him.

"I'll bring you to the porch." He walked up the front steps and deposited me on the swing, then leaned casually against the railing. I was still reeling a bit from the flight over here, which took all of maybe two minutes.

"Why did you do that?" I asked.

"Do what?"

"Fly me away from Merlotte's like a bat out of hell."

"I am a bat out of hell."

"Funny."

"The vampire I told you about was getting closer."

"Does he want to hurt me?"

"I have no idea; I am not a mind reader." Eric shrugged. "Maybe he just wanted to scope you out like I did, but just the same, I found myself not ready to have you scoped."

"This is all a very strange night for me." I muttered, pressing the palm of my hand to my forehead.

"Oh not just for you."

"Oh, really? And is there a supernatural creature you never knew existed until recently trying to 'procure' you for unknown, but probably terrifying, purposes as well?" I snapped.

"No, there is an engaging human girl slithering under my skin for the first time in a very long while. How is that happening?"

"Well, that's a question you have to answer yourself."

"No, the question I really have to answer is 'why am I letting her?'"

"Got me."

"I seem to."

He stared at me intently and I felt a pressure in my head again. "What are you doing? Is that you?" I asked unconsciously pressing my fingers to my forehead.

"You don't feel at all influenced by me right now?"

"Should I?"

"You should be like a puppet on a string to me right now. If I say jump, you should respond with 'how high.' Yet, you're looking at me as if you're waiting for something to happen."

"Are you trying to hypnotize me?" I asked aghast. "Don't you think that's a little rude?"

"Rude? Well, Miss Manners, since you touched me specifically to try to read my mind, under the circumstances, I don't find it rude."

"How did you know that's what I was doing?"

"You touched me and then said you couldn't hear me. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out once I realized what your gift was."

"My gift? You mean my disability."

"Oh no, Miss Stackhouse." He said pushing off the railing and walking toward me. "Make no mistake, you are gifted and that is why the queen wants you. And if Sophie Anne knows about you, it's not long before other vampires do. Sophie Anne likes to show off. She will most definitely brag about you. Your name will spread through the vampire world like wild fire."

"What does that mean?"

"It means your life is about to change in dangerous and shocking ways."

"I like my life the way it is."

"I'm sorry, little girl, but that's out of my hands."

"You say 'little girl' and I think of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood."

"Well, I'm sure you're going to have to be wary of the wolves too."

This had to be the most bizarre conversation I had ever had in my life. Eric paced up and down my porch slowly, alternating his attention between me and the pitch black woods surrounding my house. I was suddenly wondering what really lived out there. Knowing that vampires couldn't come into the house without an invitation was definitely a good tip, but were there other things that could come in without an invitation?

"What am I supposed to do now?" I asked. He stopped his pacing and looked at me curiously. "I mean, you're just going to dump this on me and leave? You're not going to give me any tips on how to defend myself against this? He can't come into my house without an invitation, that's just great. He can come into the bar and snatch me from there. Nothing stopped you from just walking in and turning my life upside down. Are you going to protect me? What am I supposed to do?"

He grinned widely and I realized that he seemed to be waiting for just that question. I knew then that I was much more naïve in the workings of this unexplored world than I thought. I mean, I'm not worldly, but I didn't think I was an idiot either. I might not be the most educated girl in town, but I was an avid reader. However, I just sauntered through a door without checking to see if there was fire on the other side.

"I could protect you." He said simply.

"How?"

"I'm not without a certain amount of power and authority."

"But not more than the queen."

"I can outsmart her easily enough and the procurer Bill Compton is much younger than I. But I don't do anything for free."

Of course not. I could only imagine what his "fee" would be. Before I asked about that though, something else occurred to me.

"Just how old are you?"

"I'm not sure exactly." He shrugged showing little interest. "I was turned over 1,000 years ago and I was in my late 20's at the time."

My jaw dropped. "You're more than a thousand years old?"

"There are those older than me."

I just didn't know what to say to that other than, "I'm 24."

"That's very sweet." He smiled wider.

"How much is your fee?"

"It's not about money, my beauty."

"No, of course not. It's about sex." He laughed at my frank answer. Though I was beyond scared by the whole topic of conversation, I couldn't help but acknowledge a few things about this vampire sheriff of Area 5. First of all, he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. His eyes were such a pure blue that you could forget that he was a ruthless vampire. He seemed genuinely interested in me and I found myself daring to cautiously trust him. I would imagine that the queen was probably paying this procurer a hefty sum to obtain me and that Eric could just turn me over to her on his own. I supposed he still could. Then there was the fact that I liked the sound of his laugh.

"I won't lie to you, Sookie, it was about sex. But now, it's about a little more. You surprise me, and that is a rare quality in a breather. I don't appreciate the queen doing an end run around me to acquire a being from my area. There are several options to ensure she never gets her hands on you, but they're all a little extreme and if I were to tell them to you now, your hair would curl in fright."

"You're trying to shock me."

"I don't have to try very hard. Like I said, you're ripe for the picking."

"What is your fee, Eric?" I asked again.

"For my protection?" He replied and I nodded. "For starters, I have humans working for me, you can read them."

"That's it?" I asked.

"For now."

"And what happens if you don't like what I discover?"

"I'll deal with it."

"If it's something illegal, will you turn them over to the police?"

"That's not the way it's done in the vampire world."

"That's the way it's done in the human word."

"Tell me, Sookie, do you lend your telepathic services to the humans often?"

Damn, he had me there. Our local police detective, Andy Bellefleur, already suspected what my disability was and in some moments, I caught him wishing he could use me to crack his police cases. He'd always get the bad guy and be the most famous detective in America. I got a new fear one day when he realized that if he started to do that, I'd just be taken away by the federal government for them to use.

"If humans break human laws, they get turned over to the human authorities. That's the deal. Take it, or leave it." I said as forcefully as I could. I even crossed my arms over my chest to show I meant business.

Eric raised his eyes and looked at me for a minute. Then turned and started down the stairs. "Give my regards to the queen." He tossed over his shoulder and continued to walk away.