A loud banging at the front door startled Sookie awake the next morning. Grumbling and cursing whatever it was she’d been drinking the night before, she hastily put on and tied her robe as she stumbled through the house.
The loud banging started up again just as she unlocked and jerked the door open.
“What!? Geez, let me get to the door before you break it down already.”
The medium height, sandy-haired man smirking on the other side of the door tried to look appropriately apologetic in his well-tailored suit. “I’m sorry, miss, but I’ve been knocking for five minutes already. Are you Sookie Stackhouse?”
“What would you have done if I hadn’t been home, kept banging all day long? And yes, I’m Sookie Stackhouse.”
Her glare telling him that she wasn’t the least bit impressed with his custom tailored suit and perfectly coifed hair, the man continued with barely repressed self-importance. “Yes, well, um, Ms. Stackhouse, I’m Bart Johnson from Johnson Lexus in Shreveport, and I’m here to deliver your new Lexus LX 570 SUV in Nebula Gray Pearl.” He proudly waved his hand toward the vehicle parked in the part of the driveway nearest her front door. “It comes fully loaded with a back-up camera and…”
“Why are you and that vehicle here?” Sookie just wanted the man to hurry up with whatever it was so she could go back to bed, or brush her teeth, or both. What had she been drinking the night before?
Bart huffed…he was not accustomed to being interrupted once he was in “spill mode” on one of his precious vehicles. He turned and nodded to Jennifer, his accomplice for the mission who would be driving him back to the car lot. She reached into the new vehicle, grabbed a gift bag, and promptly approached the porch.
Sookie gingerly took the proffered gift bag from the lady whose kind thoughts reflected her sympathy toward the pretty blonde who had obviously been woken up by her boss’s enthusiastic pounding on the door.
“I believe Mr. Northman left you a card inside, Ms. Stackhouse.” Sookie nodded her thanks to the younger woman and drew a card from the bag.
Ms. Sookie Stackhouse,
One of the benefits of your new position includes a company car as well as a company cell phone which has already been programmed.
Report with both to Chez Louis tonight at 9 pm.
PS: You have an atrocious singing voice when you are inebriated. You may either drink, or sing, while in my presence, but please do not attempt both at the same time.
A company car? And a company cell phone? She didn’t recall Eri…Mr. Northman saying anything about either last night. During her third re-read of the note, Sookie heard a throat clearing. She looked up to see Bart staring down at her.
“Everything should be in the bag. Enjoy your new Lexus LX 570 SUV.” After nodding at her, he nodded to his assistant, and they promptly left.
A few minutes later Sookie closed her mouth, stopped glaring at the new vehicle, and finally went back inside.
An hour later she was still sitting at her kitchen table sipping her coffee and staring at the keys in her hand. She remembered that Eri…Mr. Northman…*sigh*…Eric had driven her home the night before. She had switched to ginger ale after the third drink, but whatever was in those drinks was still potent enough that Eric had not considered her sober enough to drive herself home even three hours after her last drink.
She giggled a little at the memory of him trying to fold his huge body into her car…then giggled again at the memory of him tying to unfold himself to get back out. It wtill wasn’t clear where or how his long legs had fit. She got the idea that Eric was distinctly unimpressed with her old but faithful car…which explained the beautiful new Lexus in her driveway.
Then she cringed as the overtly enthusiastic hug she’d given him in “thanks for the drive” came to her in its full glory. She’d felt him stiffen in surprise…then she’d felt another part of him stiffen in obvious appreciation of the gesture. Blushing furiously, Sookie rose to begin cleaning her still-clean house even as she wondered how Eric had gotten home last night.
After she finished dusting her bedroom, she remembered that she still hadn’t looked at her new phone. She knew that they needed to be charged because she’d heard so many people complaining about their batteries dying. Quietly excited since she’d never been able to afford a cell phone on her meager waitressing tips, Sookie took the phone out, then spied an envelope in the bag.
She grabbed a kitchen knife, and a glass of iced tea, and sliced the envelope open. The enclosed letter, also signed by Eric, stated that the $500 in the envelope was her preliminary clothing allowance and was to be used to contribute to her current style of wardrobe.
Slightly overwhelmed by the sudden bounty, Sookie decided to call her friend Tara who had her own clothing shop. From what she remembered, her friend carried better quality clothing in styles that she, and apparently Eric, preferred. She would love to give her friend some much-needed business and would enjoy a long-overdue chat with her.
They quickly agreed to meet at 3:00 pm, which gave Sookie enough time to work on her tan, shower, and return her unread library books before buying out Tara’s shop.
Although it was slightly cool outside, Sookie was very glad to stretch out on her lounge chair and absorb some sun. She’d expected to doze off, and had set her portable alarm clock just in case, but instead found herself thinking over all the recent changes in her life.
Gran’s passing had hit her hard, and she had made some life-altering decisions afterward. Then Sam, who she’d always considered to be a friend, had become Mr. Handsy. So, she’d abruptly quit Merlotte’s. Even though she’d known that she wasn’t going to be there forever, it was still a big change. And now…now she was working for a vampire doing…something.
She shifted uncomfortably at the thought that Eric still hadn’t told her exactly what her duties would be. After the weird way he’d acted at the beginning of their night, the thought also frightened her a bit. She not only wondered what the duties would be, but also why Eric hadn’t told her. She just hoped he wasn’t part of some sort of vampire mafia. That was all she needed…
A bit later the buzzing of her clock woke her enough to reset the clock and turn over. The second time the clock buzzed, she was grateful to be woken up from a crazy dream of Eric riding around in Z Z Top’s old red car hanging out a window shooting people while wearing a pinstriped zoot suit and a bright green felt fedora.
Shaking her head at the bizarre dream, she hurried through her after-tan shower, grabbed her library books, and headed out…in her new SUV. It was love at first reverse, she thought as she turned in the yard to head down the driveway. The SUV’s smooth ride, easy-to-decipher dash, and seat adjustability were the ultimate lure. She’d been planning on returning the vehicle to Eric and asking him to provide a much less ostentatious company car, but…nah. This one was perfect.
She stopped at the mailbox to collect the day’s delivery, then, after dropping the books off, headed to Tara’s.
When she parked in front of the store, she ‘heard’ that no one was inside except her friend.
“TAAARRRRAAA! Is anybody home in here?”
Tara stood up from straightening a rack of shoes toward the back of the store and met Sookie in the middle of the aisle with a big hug.
“So, you got a new job and a clothing allowance? How awesome is that?” Tara was very happy for her childhood friend. She was also glad that Sookie didn’t smell like beer and burgers any more.
Almost two hours and a very long conversation later, Sookie loaded three large bags of new “slightly more formal” dresses, sundresses, skirts, blouses, trousers, knit tops, and shoes into her new SUV. Since she had no real idea of what all her upcoming duties might entail, she figured a couple pairs of on-sale jeans wouldn’t hurt, either.
“Whoa! Where’d you get this bad boy?” Tara appraised the new vehicle with a concerned eye. She knew for a fact that waitressing at Merlotte’s didn’t pay that great.
“My boss had it delivered to me this morning. It’s one of the benefits of the job, he said. He also gave me this phone,” Sookie replied as she hauled said phone from her purse.
Tara quirked a suspicious brow. “And what else did Mr. Gorgeous Vampire Boss give you…or are you supposed to be giving him something in return for all that?”
Sookie started to get angry at Tara and her suspicions, but she reconsidered. Tara had endured a hard life, and with the way her friend been raised, she couldn’t blame her for being suspicious. Plus, Tara was right more often than not.
“I really don’t think it’s like that, Tara. As gorgeous as he is, and with what all I saw and ‘heard’ at the club, he has no shortage of women, and some men, throwing themselves at him every night that they’re open. He certainly wouldn’t have to fake a job, give expensive benefits like this, plus a clothing allowance, just to get in some girl’s pants, not with the way those fangbangers are giving it away.”
Tara nodded, but she wasn’t convinced. Although she knew about Sookie’s “curse” and all the unintended knowledge she’d gained because of it, she also knew that Sookie was a very innocent person at heart. Unless she read it from a person’s head, Sookie wouldn’t be able to spot a con until it bit her nose.
“Well, you just be careful, hon. You know better than most how people can be. Just because they’re vampires don’t mean they’re devils, but it don’t mean they’re angels, either.”
“I know, I know. I’ll be careful, don’t worry.” She was glad she hadn’t told Tara about meeting Eric at Chez Louis that night. Tara would have raised both brows at that.
The friends exchanged long hugs and promises to talk more often, then Sookie headed back home to hang up and put away her new purchases. While she was in the store, she’d found the perfect dress to wear for the upcoming meeting. She already had the perfect heels and wrap to go with the violet blue, knee-length, spaghetti-strap dress.
By 6:30 pm Sookie was showered and primped, painted and polished, and had already eaten a light supper to tide herself over…and she still had two and a half hours to kill, not including driving time. Suddenly she realized that she didn’t know where the restaurant was, so she looked up the number and called for directions.
At 7:00 pm, the dulcet tones of Billy Idol’s Flesh for Fantasy blared forth from her purse. Startled, her heart pounding from the sudden intrusion on the low background noise from her tv, Sookie made a mad dash to her purse.
Cursing in frustration, it took her a minute but she finally figured out how to answer the phone.
“I see you’ve found the phone, then. Is the vehicle to your satisfaction?”
“Eric! I was going to ask you to take it back and find a less expensive car for me to drive, but I have to tell you…I love it! I took it for a spin earlier today and it handles great!” She giggled as she remembered thinking how easy it would be to accumulate a book’s worth of speeding tickets. Her old car protested mightily at barely 50 mph.
“And what might be causing my newest employee to giggle so delightfully?”
“I was just thinking about how easy it’d be to get a speeding ticket. My old car would barely hit 50 mph, but this one glides on up to 85 and you don’t even notice it,” she answered with a smile in her voice.
“Then perhaps I should consider adding vehicle insurance to your benefits package,” the strong, sexy voice on the other end of the call said with fake resignation.
Abruptly Eric changed his tone. “I called to make sure you had directions to the meeting place tonight.”
Puzzled by his suddenly business-like tone, Sookie nodded as if he could see her, and replied, “Yes, thank you. I called them earlier for directions.”
“Good. Nine pm sharp, then.”
Eric quickly ended the call and cursed himself quite inventively. What did he care if she liked her brand new, fully loaded SUV? He’d only gotten it for her since there was no way he was ever going to try to fit his 6’5″ frame into her little soup can of a so-called car again, much less risk being seen in such a disreputable rust bucket.
His position required the appearance of effortless luxury, which was the only reason he’d provided such a vehicle for her…his convenience. The need for an impeccable appearance was, of course, the only reason he’d granted her a clothing allowance. He’d noticed that while her clothing had been well-tended, it was neither new nor higher quality, and he would never allow an employee of his to shame him by wearing such sad clothing…or by driving a car that looked, and sounded, ready to throw a rod at any second, day or night.
The company cell phone was for his convenience, too. He’d been shocked when she’d let slip the evening before that she didn’t have a cell phone. A beautiful woman out alone, especially at night, without such a basic safety necessity? Outrageous! But he really did need to be able to reach her at all times, he reminded himself.
Satisfied with his progress thus far, the tall Viking rose from his bed and enjoyed a long stretch before heading to the small kitchen in his secure quarters. After enduring a bottle of the odious True Blood, he entered his large bathroom for a shower.
He would normally have fed the night before, but hadn’t had the opportunity since he spent the evening with the beautifully intoxicated yet oddly refreshing Sookie. It hadn’t been his intention to spend the entire evening with her, but time had seemed to fly by, and when she wasn’t entirely sober even three hours after her last sip of alcohol, he found he could not in good conscience allow her to drive her own self home.
Somehow he doubted that he’d be free to feed again this night, as well.
He had less than two hours to bathe and dress for his business meeting with his new employee, and he wanted to crank through some Area business before leaving, but the time constraint certainly didn’t stop him from imagining showering with a specific blue-eyed blonde of his recent acquaintance.