Images of the man chained to the floor kept running through Sookie’s mind after she finally gotten rid of Eric. The disturbing way he kept blowing hot and cold kept time with the gruesome image until finally she revisited the first thought she’d had, that these vampires were no better than the drainers.
As she completed her nightly routines, she realized that she’d unintentionally placed more faith in Eric than he’d earned. Because he was so attractive, and because of the way he’d sometimes acted toward her, she’d automatically assumed that he was one of the “good guys”, that he was trustworthy and truly did have her best interests at heart, and had let down her natural guard.
That was her problem, she decided. She’d given him much too much credit without really knowing him at all. True, he had seemed to take a big interest in her, but for all intents and purposes he was nothing more than her boss, and hadn’t known her well enough for it to be anything more than that.
He’d kept saying that he would protect her, but from what, and why would she believe him? What proof had there been that he would lift a finger to help her out? She was just an employee. He certainly hadn’t minded all-but forcing her to go down to the basement-slash-dungeon. He certainly hadn’t minded getting in her face and scaring her. Sure, he’d told Pam to back off and not talk to her like that, but it wasn’t like he’d done anything at all when she’d started back up again.
Yeah, she didn’t know Eric from Adam’s housecat, and had no true reason to trust him any farther than she could throw him, no matter how nice he looked or what his voice did to her girly parts.
Well, according to what he said, in the vampire world he might actually be one of the “good guys”, but not in her human world, not now. Not after he’d tried to glamour her, and not after whatever he’d done to that man in the basement. Chained…like a rabid animal! Apparently the old “innocent until proven guilty” concept didn’t apply with vampires.
But…the things she’d seen in the drainer’s nasty mind were horrendous, and there was no way he could have been innocent, not if he’d stood around and witnessed the horrible things done to that female vampire and hadn’t lifted a finger to help her.
She sat down at her kitchen table and made a list of everything she’d seen and heard from his mind, the few names she’d heard, and described the location as best she could. When she couldn’t think of one more thing to write down, she fixed herself a cup of hot chocolate and retreated to her Gran’s favorite chair.
Thoughts of Eric and all the ways he’d been with her kept drifting through her mind. He’d taken her out for a nice but useless dinner, yet he’d knowingly tried to scare and glamour her. She worried if she really could trust him to keep her telepathy a secret. Just because he said he would didn’t mean he actually would. He’d said she could go home, yet he had all-but forced her down into that horrible basement. Exactly how much did his word even mean? At that thought, she finally just went to bed.
Even her dreams wouldn’t give her peace. She had nightmare after nightmare of Eric turning on her in the blink of an eye, of Pam egging him on and begging Eric to chain her up in the dungeon, of the drainer mistaking her for a vampire and kidnapping her…
Later the next afternoon she woke, hungry and tired and more than a little pissed off. She couldn’t believe that Eric had forced her to try to read that man when he’d said he was letting her leave! He’d lied to her, and acted like she was supposed to be happy about it? And then he had the gall to keep her keys to make her let him drive?
If she didn’t need the job so badly, and if she weren’t worried about that Felicia chick, she swore she’d call in “quit” that very evening.
After a disappointing search for food in her nearly-bare cabinets and fridge, she made a grocery list, took a quick shower, and even though it was getting later, Sookie went on to the grocery store. If she didn’t, her next meal would consist of oatmeal and celery.
Before going to the grocery store, she made a quick detour to the local hardware store, and had two copies of her SUV keys made. As luck would have it, they’d only the week before gotten in the special machine needed to make keys for a vehicle such as hers, and she was incredibly thankful. She just wanted to see Eric try to hold her keys hostage again…
Early evening shoppers crowded the grocery store parking lot, but she lucked out and found a spot near the front. With a grin on her face, she quickly grabbed a shopping cart and headed for the produce section. Avoiding the celery, she aimed for the cucumbers, and in the process of picking through them, she reached for one at the same time as a much larger male hand reached for the same one.
She jerked her hand back at the same time he did, and she laughed up into some stunning green eyes. Those same green eyes quickly surveyed her attractive figure and at least tried not to linger too long on her tee-shirt encased bosom.
“Ladies first,” the man said as he gestured toward the pile of cucumbers. Easily topping six feet tall, he had light blond hair that curled around the ends, a nice tan, broad shoulders and a trim waist. When his smile grew, so did hers.
“Why thank you, kind sir,” she quipped back and pretended she wasn’t blushing. She was strongly aware of his approving gaze as he watched her select the two cucumbers she wanted.
“Next,” she invited him to make his own selections. After sharing a grin, she walked over to the tomatoes, and had just finished when he approached her side.
“Hummm…fancy meeting you here of all places,” he teased as he grabbed two huge tomatoes in his large hand.
“You do realize that if we meet over at the broccoli, it will constitute a date, right?”
Sookie fought to control the raging blush staining her cheeks as she gazed into his handsome face. She gratefully noted the absence of any sort of smirk…and headed over to the broccoli.
An instant later, his deep voice asked, “So, what’s your name? I haven’t seen you around here before, and trust me, I’d have remembered seeing you.”
“Sookie Stackhouse,” she answered, then asked, “And you?”
“Preston Pardloe, at your service, ma’am,” he bowed gracefully. “Please tell me you aren’t going to actually buy that broccoli, are you?” He gestured toward the wilted produce that was already turning a bit brown.
Laughing, Sookie just shook her head and turned her cart toward the canned goods aisles. “Nope, but I do have a bunch of other stuff to buy and not a lot of time to do it in, though.”
“Really? Why’s a gorgeous lady like you in a hurry?” He grabbed his own cart and kept pace with her as she quickly grabbed the few canned goods on her list.
“I’ve got to finish up here, take everything home, then get to work, and it’s already getting later.”
“You have to work tonight?” For some reason the thought didn’t seem to sit well with him. “Where do you work?”
“Fangtasia,” she answered distractedly as she looked through the pasta section and tried to decide between tri-color rotini, bow ties, or wagon wheels.
“The vampire bar?”
The displeasure in his voice drew her attention.
“Yeah, what about it?”
“Nothing, really. Just be careful; you know how vampires can be.”
“I know…believe me, I’m finding out, but it’s a good job.” She shivered as she remembered the things she’d rather forget, including a certain hot-and-cold running vampire of her recent acquaintance.
“May I?” Preston indicated the three boxes of pasta she was studying.
She shrugged, curious as to his intentions.
He plucked the box of bow tie-shaped pasta from her hands and put it back. She raised a brow in curiosity, and he explained. “Sometimes the part under the ‘tie’ doesn’t cook evenly and is a bit chewier than the rest of the piece.”
“Oh. But…they’re so cute, though,” she play-pouted.
“True, but so are the wagon wheels,” he laughed.
She quickly placed the remaining boxes into her cart, and turned to the jarred sauces.
“Can I get your number,” he blurted out suddenly.
Sookie smiled her approval, then handed him her phone. “Sorry, but I haven’t had a chance to memorize my new number yet.”
After getting her number and entering his own, Preston handed her the phone back.
“Since you’re in a hurry I’ll leave you be, but maybe I could call you sometime, or stop by if you’re at work? I’m in Shreveport quite often.”
She smiled broadly at his words. He was certainly attractive enough to warrant a second look…maybe even a third…, and it wasn’t like she was dating anyone. She steadfastly refused to think about hot-and-cold running Erics, and nodded to Preston.
“I’d like that.”
She turned to complete her shopping…and he did, too. They collided in the middle of the pasta aisle, and Sookie found herself suddenly held close to Preston’s chest as he stopped her fall. His strong arms felt surprisingly good, she thought.
A moment later, after taking a loud sniff of her hair, he joked, “I don’t know what kind of shampoo you use, but I like it!”
She could have sworn that he rubbed his cheek on her head, but as that made no sense to her, she shrugged it off. A second later he let her go after making sure she was steady on her feet.
“After that, you know, we really should go dancing sometime,” he invited as he gazed down into her blue eyes.
With a laugh and a nod, Sookie agreed, then went on the hunt for toilet paper. She quickly finished her shopping trip, and by the time she’d taken everything home and put up the cold items, it was time to go. She jumped into the clothes she’d picked out the night before, and smirked.
She was purposefully wearing a pair of jeans and an older top since she had been informed that she was to interrogate that disgusting drainer in the basement tonight, and she wasn’t going to risk ruining one of her pretty dresses. Common sense told her that the area looked like a dungeon for a reason, and that it wasn’t used just for chaining up prisoners.
While she deplored the idea of reading the drainer’s thoughts, sometime during the night she’d firmly decided that it had to be done. It didn’t matter how hot and cold Eric seemed to act towards her, and it didn’t matter how quickly Pam seemed to be able to turn on her – no vampire should have to suffer like she’d seen happen to Felicia. Torture was torture, no matter the species, and she was in a unique position to help.
The only thing truly bothering her at the moment was whether or not she could actually trust Eric or Pam, and if so, how much. Getting any further involved with Eric was completely out of the question…at least, not until she knew a lot more about him.
After arriving with only moments to spare, Sookie hurriedly tucked her keys into her purse, an extra key in a front pocket of her jeans, and her license in a back pocket.
She calmly entered Fangtasia with her head held high and her professionalism firmly in place…and walked straight into a leather-coated brick wall who took one sniff of her hair and growled.
“Where have you been, and who were you with?”