Deadlocked Book Twelve

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Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Dragonhawk on Sat Oct 22, 2011 3:42 pm

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Violet on Fri Nov 11, 2011 1:45 am

New cover has been revealed


Summary of Deadlocked

The story begins with Sookie and Tara and all her friends at Hooligans to see the male strippers at Claude’s club. Sookie immediately notes all the fae in the bar and JB DuRone, the husband of Tara, up there on the stage dancing. This of course pisses off Tara who is very pregnant with twins. Kennedy discloses that Danny has new secret job.

When Sookie gets home, she is greeted by Niall Brigante, her faery great grandfather and Prince of Faery. He is there to see Claude and Dermot, though he does acknowledge his son. Niall seems to be fishing for information about what has been going on and why Claude and Dermot are living with Sookie. Sookie of course is in possession of a rare faery made object called a Cluviel Dor.

Sookie begins to quiz Niall about why he cursed Dermot. Niall denies she had anything to do with a curse and asks why she is under the impression he did. Dermot said Claude had told him and Claude said he learned this from Murry, the faery Sookie killed with her grandmother’s trowel. Niall then takes Claude back to faery to get to the bottom of it. Dermot has been left in charge of Hooligans.

Mustapha Khan, Eric’s day guy, comes to see Sookie. She notes Warren’s absence and Mustapha says he had no need of a sniper but he does have some messages for her. Filipe DeCastro is coming to Shreveport to find out what happened to his Regent, Victor Madden and Sookie is to present herself at Eric’s house. The he says he has a message from Pam and that message is: “This is the hard time that will show what you are made of.” The next thing is that Mustafa Khan had looked into joining the Long Tooth Pack, the pack Alcide is the pack master of. He decided not to because of Jannalynn Hopper, Alcide’s second in command. He also reveals a Vampire has been hanging around at Hair of the Dog and Jannalynn knows Sookie lent Sam some money to keep the bar going during the tough times and she was in cahoots to get Alcide in Sookie’s bed to acquire a new Shaman for the pack.

In return for her kindness, Sam gave Sookie a raise and more authority at Merlotte’s . Terry has met a lady friend, who breeds Catahoula hounds and we find out Kenya is the half sister of India. Jason announces he is getting married to Michele.

That evening, Sookie gets ready to go to Eric’s house and she thinks about the Cluviel Dor. As she is getting ready, Mustapha Khan calls her and tells her to come at ten o’clock, an hour later than she was to appear. When Sookie finally arrives, Bill meets her and tells her to go home, that Filipe has brought a bunch of flunkies, both Vampire and human and they behave pretty much like Liam, Malcolm and Diane, but she goes on in and is met by Pam.

Pam takes her to where Eric is and Sookie gets a shock. Eric is feeding on a woman who is really not right and Eric is showing signs of being really intoxicated. She knows the woman is a were of some sort, but she thinks she must be doped somehow to intoxicate Eric. Eric lets her go and she heads out of the house. Sookie is pretty pissed but she pulls together to figure out what has happened. Eric admits he is pretty stoned and he has a hard time following what she is saying, but he finally sobers up and they realize the girl was sent in for a reason and this was part of a plot. By whom they do not know, but they have to get their ass out there to Filipe.

Filipe gets to the point quickly and begins to quiz them about the death of Victor Madden and his crew and the deaths of Bruno and Corrina, who Sookie and Pam killed defending themselves on a dark road in the rain. Bill suddenly appears and says there is a dead human woman on his lawn and the police have been called and Mustapha Khan was gone. After hassling with the cops for a while, they are finally allowed to go home.

The next day, Sookie has several messages. The first one she answers is a call from Alcide. She asks if he knows where Mustapha Khan was. He says he will keep an eye out for him though he is not a member of the pack and asks Sookie to help Jannalynn orchestrate her marriage proposal to Sam. Sookie declines.
As Sookie gets on with her day, she sees Dermot and Mustapha Khan. Mustapha tells her he did not kill the woman at Eric’s house but he knows there is something going on with Warren, which Mustapha doesn’t want to talk about. Sookie recommends Mustapha speak with Alcide, even if he has problems with Jannalynn.

Later, Eric calls and says he wants to see her, but she says no. Eric is a little put out but then Sookie tells him he needs to tell Bill to put his investigator’s cap on and get Heidi on the scent of whoever killed that woman in Eric’s yard. She also asks how DeCastro knows about Victor. Eric reminds her that eventually, Victor would punish Eric.

Sookie confides in Sam about the party and Sam discloses he’s a little iffy about Jannalynn. Then Dermot tells Sookie the fae are getting restless without Claude’s leadership. He talks about how Claude in the human world liked making money and being able to go between worlds to indulge in pleasures not allowed in faery. He said Claude liked having it both ways. Bill and Heidi go to Shreveport to sniff around.
The next day, Sookie gets called out to the police station where she hassles around with them for a bit. She then talks to Dermot about the fae and he says he feels a little spread thin. Tara goes into labor and she sees Alcide and were named Roy who dates a Vampire called Palomino, who works for Eric. Sookie tells Alcide Mustapha Khan wants to speak with him.

The next morning, Sam tells Sookie Splendide’s was broken into and all the furniture that had been in her house had been broken up and some things had been taken off. Sookie also agrees to write to Niall and Bellenos agrees to look into who gave up some faery blood.

The parents of the girl who was killed in Eric’s front yard show up at Sookie’s house with a writer. They want to write a true crime story about her and they want Sookie to tell them all she knows. She tells them there isn’t anything she can tell them and tells them to leave. The journalist leaves his card.

Later that evening, Bubba appears and tells her Freyda is coming to see her. She is the Queen of Oklahoma and in negotiations with Eric for a marriage to him. She is here to take Sookie’s measure and Bubba shows a spark of shrewdness and calls Pam and tells her he is there with Sookie and the Queen so someone knows what is up. After a discussion which does not leave Sookie feeling any more comforted about Eric, she rescinds the queen’s invitation and Bubba calls and tells Pam she is safe and sound.

Eric calls Sookie after that to check on her. He tells her Freyda won’t win, but Sookie is not that confident about that.

Sookie goes to work the next day and she is troubled about Eric and whatever Bill and Heidi might have discovered. She also can’t figure out who would break into Splendide’s and what they could possibly want.
Later, Sookie talks to Bill and he tells her he and Heidi are still sniffing around. They found a gate in the stone wall of Eric’s property and this gate was the responsibility of Mustapha Khan to keep secure. He also found evidence fairy blood had been consumed on the premises. Sookie talks about the girl’s parents showing up and the reporter. Sookie and Bill figure out something about Mustapha Khan, whose real name is KeShawn and a Vampire who had been at Rhodes named RaShawn. Apparently they are related. While Bill and Sookie are on her computer looking at the Vampire Registry, Eric comes in and he is not pleased to see Bill there. But to his credit, everything has been wrong tonight. Filipe and crew have sort of made Fangtasia their hang out and Filipe and Freyda have been in some private discussions and he crew have been doing drugs and lounging around Fangtasia like they own the place. And the disappearance of Mustapha has been bugging him.

Sookie tells Eric about Mustapha Khan and Jannalynn’s possible complicity. Eric says he will have to make an official request to get Jannalynn’s scent from Alcide’s pack. Sookie decides that before they do that, she has to have a face to face with Alcide.

On her way to Sam’s she nearly runs over Belenos and Gift. They are running a deer across the road. Sookie tries to stop and ends up in ditch. Belenos and Gift help her get out and then they get her car out. She sort of explains to them they can’t just hunt in the open like that. Gift asks Sookie if she is on their side and Belenos tries to hush her up and Sookie is a little wary of them. They keep saying things about her having magik and she doesn’t know what they are talking about.

She returns home after the wreck and tells Eric and Bill about Belenos and Gift. She sends Eric and Bill home, even though Eric wants to stay with her and make love, Sookie thinks it is because she is all smelled up with eau de fae and she stands firm and sends him on his way. But they tell her that Colton, the guy who warned Eric and Sookie about the fairy blood on the glasses at the Vampire’s kiss, has gone missing. He had been there when Victor was killed.

The next day, Sookie is all in a muddle about Eric. She knows he loves her, but he is a climber, and the marriage with the Queen would be a real step up for him. She contemplated the Cluviel Dor, whether she would use it to keep her and Eric safe and together but Sookie is afraid it would come with consequences and she is really afraid to use it.

Sookie then steals Jannalynn’s jacket for Bill and she goes home to make Jason a sweet potato pie, when there is a knock at her door and she sees it is Donald Callaway, the half owner of Splendide’s and he wants the Cluviel Dor. Apparently he had already found it before he even showed Sookie the hidden door and saw the words Cluviel Dor and looked it up. Sookie is pretty calm, going about boiling the potatoes and dipping them out when they are done and then throwing the scalding water of the potatoes in his face. About the same time, Mr Cataliades come in and breaks his neck.

Cataliades then tells her he has been traveling, that up to now he has been keeping one step ahead of hell hounds on his trail and he and Diantha finally got the upper hand and killed them. Cataliades says Callaway figured out about the Cluviel Dor because he had read about it in a book of Irish faery lore. He also tells Sookie to keep the Cluviel Dor near her at all times because it an attack is inevitable. He also tells her Barry the Bellboy is his great great grandson.

Diantha shows up and reveals she is a shape shifter and turns into Callaway to dispose of the body and the car.

Jason comes to pick up his pies and Dermot cooks for them. He tells Sookie he has Belenos and Gift on the top of his shit list because they made Sookie wreck and he tells her that Bill loves her. She says that she knows and then he asks if she loves Eric and she says she does, but she thinks to herself that she no longer feels as excited about him or eager for him since she broke the bond. Dermot then discloses she has a date with the doctor who took care of her.

Sookie heads for Bill’s with Jannalynn’s jacket and he meets her half way. He sniffs the jacket and he says this is not the scent he had. But then he tells Sookie Filipe does have Colton but he really can’t tell him anything about what happened the night Victor died because he was so grief stricken because of Audrina, Bill glamoured him. Bill suggests they could get him out. Palomino works at the Trifecta, the casino hotel Filipe has been staying. He has a waitress costume for Sookie and Palomino is ready to let them into the building.

They get Colton out of the hotel and as they are getting in the car to drive off, they are stopped by a were who wants Sookie to come with him to Alcide’s, that they think they have found Warren’s body but they are not sure. Sookie has misgivings but she send Bill on to get Colton away and she goes with the were named Van and two other weres, a man and a woman. She gets they are rogues and want to challenge Alcide for the pack.

Mustapha Khan rescues her in the nick of time. He brings Sookie to Alcide’s house. She tells Alcide about Colton and getting him out and everything about the rogue weres. Alcide asks about the female were and reveals she is his spy and Sookie tells him she is okay as far as she knows. He tells Sookie what he thinks about Jannalynn, that she had a meeting with the rogues and were going to help them. Then Alcide asks Sookie about Eric and the Queen of Oklahoma. Then Mustapha revealed Claude was the one who arranged things with that girl who was killed in Eric’s yard.

This is of course a shock to Sookie. They decide to look on some property which had belonged to Jannalynn’s parents for Warren’s body. Sookie triggers on a live brain in the attic over the garage. They find Warren and he is barely alive. She gets Bill to come out and give him blood to heal. Alcide wants to go directly into punishment mode and Sookie tells them they have to wait because they have to sit down and talk to Sam first and Jannalynn has to confess to framing Eric. Then everyone wondered about Claude and why he would want to do something to Eric. That is when it dawns on Sookie Claude had cursed Dermot and blamed it on the definitely dead Murry. On the way home, Bill and Sookie hash things back and forth and Sookie realized Claude probably wanted the Cluviel Dor. That is when he reveals he has hired Danny part time as a day guy.

But Sookie keeps that to herself and she and Bill talk some more about Eric. Bill speculates that he can’t figure out if Eric is really trying to get out of it, or if he is trying to get a better bargain. He apologizes to Sookie for saying it but she begins to fantasize about the perfect life: Jason and Michele together and happy, Alcide and his spy together, Sam and Merlotte’s prosperous, Quinn would be happy with his lady tiger, and India would find the lady of her life and she could marry her. She asks Bill for his perfect fantasy and he says it would be that she would throw over Eric and come back to him and want to spend forever with him and she would let him make her a Vampire, like him. But then he would refuse to make her Vampire because he loves her.

The next day, Sookie woke up. It is her birthday. She showers for the day and packs the Cluviel Dor with her. She wonders again if she would use the Cluviel Dor to keep Eric with her. As she leaves her house, she met again by the cops who ask her a few more questions.

Finally Sookie heads out and goes to Tara’s house for a bit. Apparently she has come to terms with JB being a stripper but she mentions the other dancers don’t really socialize with him after work. This is because they are all supernaturals of course. Sookie heads back out and goes to her lawyers and makes her will. Quinn calls out the blue and tells her his lady tiger is married, but tigresses raise the young alone and Quinn doesn’t like this at all. He also tells her his mom is real sick and Frannie has run off with some guy and has been gone for some time.

Sam then calls her and tells her he needs her at work. She goes, reluctantly and discovers it was all a rouse to get her there for a surprise party. She gets gifts and a cake and she spends some time with them and then goes home where she is met by Eric and Bill and Pam. Eric tries to be a smart ass and tells her they are here to give her birthday presents and Bill will likely pledge his love which surpasses Eric’s and Pam will be little sharp but will say ‘But you know I love you’ and Sookie looks at Eric and says “Well what will you be telling me? You love me, but in a practical way and I will tell you whatever I have tell you to make you afraid while at the same time I may be leaving you.” This sort of screws up the party and Bill and Pam give her their presents and leaves Eric and Sookie alone.

Eric tells her things are not as simple as she makes them sound, that his maker had signed a contract and he has to go along with it, and if he doesn’t their lives won’t be worth living once Filipe is done with them. Eric seems to be waiting around for Sookie to tell him something and when she doesn’t he leaves and after she thinks about it, she figures out Eric knows about the Cluviel Dor.

The next day, Claude returns unexpectedly. Claude acts strangely. He mentions Sookie doesn’t want to have sex with him, and she sometimes acts as if she doesn’t even like him all that much. Dermot comes home and Claude tells him Niall is busy but Claude was unable to garner support for his plan. Claude and Dermot get into a fight and Belenos and Gift intervene. Dermot admitted Claude felt the presence of a powerful fae object and he wanted it.

Sookie lies and tells them Mr. Cataliades took it away with him and then she confronts Claude about the thing with Eric. Claude admits to his role in the plot and this is met with a great deal of negativity because this is a fae no-no. He tells her he wanted to get Eric intoxicated so he would attack her and force Niall to come back to this world to protect her.

Suddenly, Niall appears without his faery glamour and he whispers to Sookie that he knows she has the Cluviel Dor. He then says he is going to take all the fae of North America back to Faery that he will be closing the door very soon. The he tells Sookie he told Eric about the Cluviel Dor. Niall finally asks if there is anyone who wants to stay in Humanity and Dermot almost decides to stay but he ultimately goes. Niall disappears all the fae in North America .

Sookie later sits down and opens her gifts from Bill and Pam and an envelope she got from Sam. Sam has made her 1/3 owner of Merlotte’s and Bill got her a cameo which is the likeness of Gran and Pam got her some perfume.

That evening, Alcide calls her and tells her they are having the were meeting tonight and he has invited Eric and Sam to be there to deal with Jannalynn. She meets Eric and Sam there and Mustapha Khan is there and they decide the rogues were just following Jannalynn and they are exiled out of Louisiana and Jannalynn makes a phone call to the police and confesses to the death of the woman who was found murdered in Eric’s yard. Mustapha and Jannalynn begin to fight and Jannalynn accidentally kills Sam. Sookie whips out the Cluviel Dor and makes her wish for Sam to live. He comes hack healed and Jannalynn is decapitated by Mustapha Khan and Eric leaves without a word.

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Guest on Fri Nov 11, 2011 1:59 am

Awesome find Vi! Thanks bunches. Now we know its getting closer!
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Fri Nov 11, 2011 6:23 am

Very Cool

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Guest on Sat Nov 12, 2011 12:07 am

According to amazon.com the book has a street date of May 1, 2012. cheers
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Barrister on Sat Nov 12, 2011 5:04 am

Excellent find Miss Violet

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Renee on Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:23 pm

Happy Birthday to me!!! That artwork is definitely making me go hmmmmm.

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Barrister on Sun Nov 13, 2011 12:10 am

Any word on when we might be getting that first chapter preview?

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Fri Nov 18, 2011 7:10 am

Not sure this is real or not...

With Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), in town, it’s the worst possible time for a body to show up in Eric Northman’s front yard — especially the body of a woman whose blood he just drank.

Now, it’s up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl’s fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who’s out to make Sookie’s world come crashing down.

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Violet on Mon Nov 21, 2011 3:29 am

Barrister wrote:Any word on when we might be getting that first chapter preview?

It's usually around Christmas Smile

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Barrister on Mon Nov 21, 2011 3:34 am


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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Guest on Mon Nov 21, 2011 3:39 am

Awesome, so now we have two things to look forward to! Thanks!

cheers eric cheers
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Fri Dec 16, 2011 3:27 pm

http://www.charlaineharris.com/Deadlocked_2.html

Excerpt from Chapter Two can be read at the link.....

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Guest on Fri Dec 16, 2011 5:13 pm

Very interesting chapter. It had a bit in it and yet it seemed to be very slow moving. It wasnt a long read, but am I the only one who feels like they need to reread the last book before reading this book just so I know what is going on again?
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Fri Dec 16, 2011 6:31 pm

Me me me !!!!!!!! bounce

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Renee on Sat Dec 17, 2011 6:13 am

Well, it's sure enough gonna hit the fan. Sometimes I wonder if Jannalyn doesn't have a trace of Pelt in her family tree. Devious, backstabbing, possessive bitch seems to be a trend.

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Sat Dec 17, 2011 3:24 pm

It definitely looks as though Sookie is in for some major trouble with her fairy kin and now Eric is asking her to come to Fangtasia to meet with King Phillipe and according to some reports, she and Bill are going to be investigating a murder together.....

Yeah, I agree Ani, I think the book is starting a little slow, but that is the way her books sort start the last few books....

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Barrister on Sun Dec 18, 2011 12:35 am

Well, that was a sort of in the middle of nothing chapter.... wooliebully

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Wed Dec 21, 2011 7:47 pm


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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Guest on Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:52 pm

Why is it that woman gets on my ever loving last nerve and stands on it?

What I got out of that whole thing is that she cant write (duh) and that its all about the money (grrr) and that she is so tired of the Sookie books she cant stand herself.

Talk about someone who is ungrateful and underserving. If you would excuse me now? I find I must go beat my head against a wall.
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:19 pm

http://www.gollancz.co.uk/2012/03/deadlocked-cover-reveal/

Hear is the cover of the European versions of the Sookie Books...Meh....

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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:31 pm

Here is a snippet from the first chapter presumably.....

http://www.gollancz.co.uk/2012/04/a-sneak-peak-inside-deadlocked/

Chapter One

It was hot as the six shades of Hell even this late in the evening, and I’d had a busy day at work. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit in a crowded bar to watch my cousin get naked. But it was Ladies Only night at Hooligans, we’d planned this excursion for days, and the bar was full of hooting and hollering women determined to have a good time.

My very pregnant friend Tara sat to my right, and Holly, who worked at Sam Merlotte’s bar like me and Kennedy Keyes, sat on my left. Kennedy and Michele, my brother’s girlfriend, sat on the other side of the table.

“The Sook-ee,” Kennedy called, and grinned at me. Kennedy had been first runner-up to Miss Louisiana a few years ago, and despite her stint in prison she’d retained her spectacular looks and grooming, including teeth that could blind an oncoming bus.

”I’m glad you decided to come, Kennedy,” I said. “Danny doesn’t mind?” She’d been waffling the very afternoon before. I’d been sure she’d stay at home.

“Hey, I want to see some cute guys naked, don’t you?” Kennedy said.

I glanced around at the other women. “Unless I missed a page, we all get to see guys naked, on a regular basis;’ I said. Though I hadn’t been trying to be funny, my friends shrieked with laughter. They were just that giddy.

I’d only spoken the truth: I’d been dating Eric Northman for a while; Kennedy and Danny Prideaux had gotten pretty intense; Michele and Jason were practically living together; Tara was married and pregnant, for gosh sakes; and Holly was engaged to Hoyt Fortenberry, who barely stopped in at his own apartment any longer.

“You gotta at least be curious,” Michele said, raising her voice to be heard over the clamor. “Even if you get to see Claude around the house all the time. With his clothes on, but still …”

“Yeah, when’s his place gonna be ready for him to move back?”

Tara asked. “How long can it take to put in new plumbing?”

Claude’s Monroe house’s plumbing was in fine shape as far as I knew. The plumbing fiction was simply better than saying, “My cousin’s a fairy, and he needs the company of other fairies, since he’s in exile. Also, my half-fairy great-uncle Dermot, a carbon copy of my brother, came along for the heck of it.” The fae, unlike the vampires and the werewolves, wanted to keep their existence a deep secret.

Also, Michele’s assumption that I’d never seen Claude naked was incorrect. Though the spectacularly handsome Claude was my cousin­ and I certainly kept my clothes on around the house- the fairy atti­tude about nudity was totally casual. Claude, with his long black hair, brooding face, and rippling abs, was absolutely mouthwatering … until he opened his mouth. Dermot lived with me, too, but Dermot was more modest in his habits … maybe because I’d told him how I felt about bare-assed relatives.

I liked Dermot a lot better than I liked Claude. I had mixed feelings about Claude. None of those feelings were sexual. I’d very recently and reluctantly allowed him back into my house after we’d had an argu­ ment, in fact.

“I don’t mind having him and Dermot around the house. They’ve helped me out a lot,” I said weakly.

“What about Dermot? Does Dermot strip, too?” Kennedy asked hopefully.

“He does managerial stuff here. Him stripping would be weird for you, huh, Michele?” I said. Dermot’s a ringer for my brother, who’d been tight with Michele for a long time-a long time in Jason terms. “Yeah, I couldn’t watch that,” she said. “Except maybe for com­parison purposes!” We all laughed.

While they continued to talk about men, I looked around the club. I’d never been in Hooligans when it was this busy, and I’d never been to a Ladies Only night. There was a lot to think about-the staff, for example.

We’d paid our cover charge to a very buxom young woman with webs between her fingers. She’d flashed me a smile when she caught me staring, but my friends hadn’t given her a second glance. After we’d passed through the inner door, we were ushered to our seats by an elf named Bellenos, whom I’d last seen offering me the head of my enemy. Literally.

None of my friends seemed to notice anything different about Bellenos, either-but he didn’t look like a regular man to me. His head of auburn hair was smooth and peltlike, his far-apart eyes were slant­ ing and dark, his freckles were larger than human freckles, and the points of his needle-sharp inch-long teeth gleamed in the dim house lights. When I’d first met Bellenos, he’d been unable to mask himself as human. Now he could.

“Enjoy, ladies,” Bellenos had told us in his deep voice. “We’ve had this table reserved for you.” He’d given me a particular smile as he turned to go back to the entrance.

We were seated right by the stage. A hand-lettered sign in the middle of the tablecloth read, “Bon Temps Party.”

“I hope I get to thank Claude real personally,” Kennedy said, with a sultry leer. She was definitely fighting with Danny; I could tell. Michele giggled and poked Tara’s shoulder.

Finally, knowing Claude was a perk.

“That redhead who showed us to the table thought you were cute, Sookie,” Tara said uneasily. I could tell she was thinking of my full­ time boyfriend and vampire husband, Eric Northman. She figured he wouldn’t be too happy about a stranger ogling me.

“He was just being polite because I’m Claude’s cousin,” I said. “Like hell! He was looking at you like you were chocolate-chip­ cookie-dough ice cream;’ she said. “He wanted to eat you up.”

I was pretty sure she was right, but maybe not in the sense she meant; not that I could read Bellenos’s mind, any more than that of any other supernatural creature . .. but elves are what you’d call un­ restricted in their diet. I hoped Claude was keeping a close watch on the mixed bag of fae he’d accumulated here at Hooligans.

Meanwhile, Tara was complaining that her hair had lost all its body during her pregnancy, and Kennedy said, “Have a conditioning session at Death by Fashion in Shreveport. Immanuel’s the best.”

“He cut my hair once;’ I said, and they all looked at me in astonishment. “You remember? When my hair got singed?”

‘When the bar was bombed,” Kennedy said. “That was Immanuel? Wow, Sookie, I didn’t know you knew him.”

”A little,” I said. “I thought about getting some highlights, but he left town. The shop’s still open.” I shrugged.

”All the big talent leaves the state,” Holly said, and while they talked that over, I tried to arrange my rump in a comfortable position on the folding metal chair wedged between Holly and Tara. I carefully bent down to tuck my purse between my feet.

As I looked around me at all the excited customers, I began to relax. Surely I could enjoy this a little bit? I’d known the club was full of displaced fae since my last visit here, after all. I was with my friends, and they were all ready to have a good time. Surely I could allow myself to have a good time with them? Claude and Dermot were my kin, and they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. Right? I managed to smile at Bellenos when he came around to light the candle on our table, and I was laughing at a dirty joke of Michele’s when a waitress hustled over to take our drink orders. My smile faded. I remembered her from my previous visit.

“‘I’m Gift, and I’ll be your server tonight,” she said, just as perky as you please. Her hair was a bright blond, and she was very pretty. But since I was part fae (due to a massive indiscretion of my grand­ mother’s), I could see past the blonde’s cute exterior. Her skin wasn’t the honey tan everyone else was seeing. It was a pale, pale green. Her eyes had no pupils … or perhaps the pupils and irises were the same black? She fluttered her eyelids at me when no one else was looking. She might have two. Eyelids, that is. On each eye. I had time to notice because she bent so close to me.

“Welcome, Sister,” she murmured in my ear, and then straightened to beam at the others. “What y’all having tonight?” she asked with a perfect Louisiana accent.

“Well, Gift, I want you to know up front that most of us are in the serving business, too, so we’re not going to give you a hard time,” Holly said.

Gift twinkled back at her. ”I’m so glad to hear that! Not that you gals look like a hard time, anyway. I love Ladies Only night.”

While my friends ordered their drinks and baskets of fried pickles or tortilla chips, I glanced around the club to confirm my impression. None of the servers were human. The only humans here were the cus­tomers.

When it was my turn, I told Gift I wanted a Bud Light. She bent closer again to say, “How’s the vampire cutie, girlfriend?”

“He’s fine,” I said stiffly, though that was far from true.

Gift said, “You’re so cute!” and tapped me on the shoulder as if I’d said something witty. “Ladies, you doing all right? I’m going to go put your food orders in and get your drinks.” Her bright head gleamed like a lighthouse as she maneuvered expertly through the crowd.

“I didn’t know you knew all the staff here. How is Eric? I haven’t seen him since the fire at Merlotte’s,” Kennedy said. She’d clearly over­ heard Gift’s query. “Eric is one fine hunk of man.” She nodded wisely.
There was a chorus of agreement from my friends. Truly, Eric’s hunkiness was undeniable. The fact that he was dead weighed against him, especially in Tara’s eyes. She’d met Claude, and she hadn’t picked up on the fact that there was something different about him; but Eric, who never tried to pass for human, would always be on her blacklist. Tara had had a bad experience with a vampire, and it had left an indel­ible mark on her.

“He has a hard time getting away from Shreveport. He’s pretty busy with work,” I said. I stopped there. Talking about Eric’s business was always unwise.

“He’s not mad you’re going to watch another guy take off his clothes?

You sure you told him?” Kennedy asked, her smile hard and bright. There was definitely trouble in Kennedy-and-Danny land. Oh, I didn’t want to know about it.

“I think Eric is so confident he looks good naked that he doesn’t worry about me seeing someone else that way,” I said. I’d told Eric I was going to Hooligans. I hadn’t asked his permission; as Kennedy had said about Danny, he was not the boss of me. But I had sort of floated the idea by him to see how he reacted. Things between us hadn’t been comfortable for a few weeks. I didn’t want to upset our fragile boat­ not for such a frivolous reason.

As I’d expected, Eric had not taken our proposed girls’ night out very seriously. For one thing, he thought modern American attitudes about nudity were amusing. He’d seen a thousand years of long nights, and he’d lost his own inhibitions somewhere along the way. I suspected he’d never had that many.

My honey not only was calm about my viewing other men’s naked bodies; he wasn’t concerned about our destination. He didn’t seem to imagine there’d be any danger in the Monroe strip club. Even Pam, his second-in-command, had only shrugged when Eric had told her what we human females were going to do for entertainment. “Won’t be any vampires there,” she’d said, and after a token jab at Eric about my wanting to see other men in the buff, she’d dismissed the subject.

My cousin Claude had been welcoming all sorts of displaced fae to Hooligans since the portals to Faery had been shut by my great­-grandfather Niall. He’d shut the portals on an impulse, a sudden reversal of his previous policy that human and fae should mix freely. Not all the fairies and other fae living in our world had had time to get on the Faery side before the portals closed. A very small one, located in the woods behind my house, remained open a crack. From time to time, news passed through.

When they’d thought they were alone, Claude and my great-uncle Dermot had come to my house to take comfort in my company because of my dab of fairy blood. Being in exile was terrible for them. As much as they had previously enjoyed the human world, they now yearned for home.

Gradually, other fae had begun showing up at Hooligans. Dermot and Claude, especially Claude, didn’t stay with me as regularly. That solved a lot of problems for me-Eric couldn’t stay over if the two fair­ ies were in the house because the smell of fairy is simply intoxicating to vampires-but I did occasionally miss Great-Uncle Dermot, who’d always been comfortable company for me.

As I was thinking of him, I spotted Dermot behind the bar. Though he was my fairy grandfather’s brother, he looked no older than his late twenties.

“Sookie, there’s your cousin,” Holly said. “I haven’t seen him since Tara’s shower. Oh my God, he looks so much like Jason!”

“The family resemblance is real strong;’ I agreed. I glanced over at Jason’s girlfriend, who was not any kind of pleased at seeing Dermot. She’d met Dermot before when he’d been cursed with insanity. Though she knew he was in his right mind these days, she wasn’t going to warm up to him in any kind of hurry.

“I never have figured out how you’re kin to them,” Holly said. In Bon Temps everybody knew who your people were and who you were connected to.

“Someone was illegitimate,” I said delicately. “Not saying any more. I didn’t find out until after Gran passed, from some old family papers.”

Holly looked wise, which was kind of a stretch for her.

“Does having an ‘in’ with the management mean we’re going to get a freebie drink or something?” Kennedy asked. “Maybe a lap dance on the house?”

“Girl, you don’t want a lap dance from a stripper!” Tara said. “You don’t know where that thing has been!”

“You’re just all sour-grapey because you don’t have a lap anymore;’ Kennedy muttered, and I gave her a meaningful glare. Tara was super­-sensitive about losing her figure.

I said, “Hey, we already got a reserved table right by the stage. Let’s not push it by asking for anything else.”

Luckily, our drinks arrived then. We tipped Gift lavishly.

“Yum,” Kennedy said after a big sip. “That is one wicked appletini.” As if that had been a signal, the house lights went down, the stage lights popped on, music began to play, and Claude came prancing out
in spangled silver tights and boots, and nothing else.

“Good God, Sookie, he looks edible!” Holly said, and her words flew straight to Claude’s sharp fairy ears. (He’d had the points surgi­ cally removed so he wouldn’t have to expend energy looking human, but the procedure hadn’t affected his hearing.) Claude looked over at our table, and when he spotted me, he grinned. He twitched his butt so that his spangles flew out and caught the light, and the women crammed into the club began clapping, full of anticipation.

“Ladies,” Claude said into the microphone, “Are you ready to enjoy Hooligans? Are you ready to watch some amazing men show you what they’re made of?” He let his hand stroke his admirable abs and raised
one eyebrow, managing to look incredibly sexy and incredibly suggestive in two simple moves.

The music escalated, and the crowd shrieked. Even the heavily pregnant Tara joined in the chorus of enthusiasm as a line of men danced out on the stage behind Claude. One of them was wearing a policeman’s uniform (if cops ever decided to put glitter on their pants), one was wearing a leather outfit, one was dressed as an angel-yes, with wings! And the last one in the row was …

There was a sudden and total silence at our table. All of us sat with our eyes straight ahead, not daring to steal a look at Tara.

The last stripper was her husband, JB du Rone. He was dressed as a construction worker. He wore a hard hat, a safety vest, fake blue jeans, and a heavy tool belt. Instead of wrenches and screwdrivers, the belt loops held handy items like a cocktail shaker, a pair of furry hand­ cuffs, and a few things I simply couldn’t identify.

It was painfully obvious that Tara had had no clue.

Of all the “oh shit” moments in my life, this was OSM Number One. The whole party from Bon Temps sat frozen as Claude introduced the performers by their stripper names (]B was “Randy”). One of us had to break the silence. Suddenly, I saw a light at the end of the con­ versational tunnel.

“Oh, Tara,” I said, as earnestly as anyone ever could speak. “This is so sweet.”
The other women turned to me simultaneously, their faces desper­ ate with hope that I might show them how to spackle over this awful moment. Though I could hear Tara thinking she would like to take JB to the deer processing plant and tell the butcher to make him into ground meat, I plunged in.

“You know he’s doing this for you and the babies;’ I said, injecting my voice with every drop of sincerity I could muster. I leaned closer and took her hand. I wanted to be sure she heard me over the booming music. “You know he meant the extra money as a big surprise for you.”

“Well,” she said through stiff lips, “‘I’m plenty surprised.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Kennedy closing her eyes in gratitude for the cue. I could feel the relief pouring from Holly’s mind. Michele relaxed visibly. Now that the other women had a path to fol­ low, they all fell into step. Kennedy told a very credible story about JB’s last visit to Merlotte’s, a visit in which he’d told her how worried he was about paying the medical bills.

“With twins coming, he was scared that might mean more time in the hospital,” Kennedy said. She was making up most of this, but it sounded good. During her career as a beauty queen (and before her career as a convicted felon), Kennedy had mastered sincerity.

Tara finally seemed to relax just a smidgen, but I monitored her thoughts so we could stay on top of the situation. She didn’t want to draw any more attention to our table by demanding we all walk out, which had been her first impulse. When Holly hesitantly mentioned leaving if Tara was too uncomfortable to stay, Tara fixed us all in turn with a grim stare. “Hell, no,” she said.

Thank God drink refills came then, and the baskets of food soon after. We all tried hard to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and we were doing pretty well by the time the music started pumping “Touch My Nightstick” to announce the arrival of the “policeman.”

The performer was a full-blooded fairy; a little too thin for my taste, but he was real good-looking. You won’t find an ugly fairy. And he could actually dance, and he really enjoyed the exercise. Every inch of gradually revealed flesh was just as toned and tempting as it could be. “Dirk” had a fantastic sense of rhythm, and he seemed to be enjoy­ ing himself. He was basking in the lust, the excitement of being the focus of attention. Were all the fae as vain as Claude, as conscious of their own beauty?

“Dirk” gyrated his sexy way around the stage, and a shocking number of dollar bills were stuffed into the little man-thong that had grad­ ually become his only garment. It was clear that Dirk was generously endowed by nature and that he was enjoying the attention. Every now and then someone bold would give him a little rub, but Dirk would pull back and shake his finger at the miscreant.

“Eww,” Kennedy said the first time that happened, and I had to echo her sentiment. But Dirk was tolerant if not encouraging. He gave an especially generous donor a quick kiss, which made the hollering rise to a crescendo. I’m good at estimating tips, but I could not even begin to guess how much Dirk had made by the time he left the stage-especially since he’d been handing off handfuls of bills to Der­ mot at intervals. The routine came to an end perfectly in time with the music, and Dirk took his bow and ran off the stage.

In a very short time, the stripper pulled on his glittery policeman pants (though nothing else) and came out to wander through the crowd, smiling and nodding as women offered him drinks, phone numbers, and yet more cash. Dirk took only a sip of the drinks, accepted the phone numbers with a charming smile, and tucked the money in his waistband until he seemed to be wearing a green belt.

Though this kind of entertainment wasn’t something I’d want to experience on a regular basis, I honestly couldn’t see the harm. Women were getting to shout and scream and get rowdy in a controlled envi­ ronment. They were obviously having a great time. Even if some of these women were enthralled enough to come every week (a lot of brains were telling me a lot of things), well, it was only one night. The ladies weren’t aware they were cheering for elves and fairies, true; but I was sure they were happier not knowing that (besides JB’s) the flesh and skill they were so admiring wasn’t human.

The other performers were more of the same. The angel, “Gabriel,” was anything but angelic, and fluttering white feathers drifted through the air as he apparently divested himself of his wings (I was sure they were still there but invisible), and nearly every other stitch he’d worn, to “Your Heavenly Body.” Like the policeman, he was in wonderful shape and apparently well endowed. He was also shaved smooth as a baby’s bottom, though it was hard to think of him in the same sen­ tence as the word “baby.” Women grabbed for the floating feathers and the creature who’d worn them.

When Gabriel came out into the audience-wings again apparent, sporting only a white monokini-Kennedy seized him when he hap­ pened by our table. Kennedy was losing what few inhibitions she had as her drinks kept vanishing. The angel gazed at Kennedy with glow­ ing golden eyes- at least, that was what I saw. Kennedy gave him her business card and a lopsided leer, running her palm down his abs. As he turned away from her, I gently inserted a five-dollar bill in his fin­ gers, taking Kennedy’s card away as Idid so. The golden eyes met mme.

“Sister,” he said. Even through the noise of the next performer’s entrance, I could hear his voice.

He smiled and drifted away, to my great relief I hastily concealed Kennedy’s card in my purse. I gave a mental eye-roll at the concept of a part-time bartender having a business card; that was so Kennedy.

Tara had at least not been having a horrible time during the evening, but as the moment approached when JB would certainly be taking the stage, the tension inevitably ratcheted up at our table. From the moment he leaped to center stage and began dancing to “Nail­ Gun Ned,” it was obvious that he didn’t know his wife was in the audience. (JB’s mind is like an open book with maybe two words per page.) His dance routine was surprisingly polished. I sure hadn’t known how flexible JB could be. We Bon Temps ladies tried hard not to let our eyes meet.

“Randy” was simply having a great time. By the time he stripped down to his man-thong, everyone-almost everyone-was sharing his elation, as the number of bills he collected bore witness. I could read directly from JB’s head that this adulation was feeding a great need. His wife, tired and pregnant, no longer glowed with pleasure every time she saw him naked. JB was so used to receiving approval that he craved it-however he could get it.

Tara had muttered something and left the table just as her hus­ band came on, so he didn’t see her when he danced across the stage close to us. The moment he was near enough to realize who we were, a shade of concern passed over his handsome face. He was entertainer enough to keep on going, to my relief I actually felt a bit proud of JB. Even in the arctic air-conditioning, he was sweating with his gyra­ tions. He was vigorous, athletic, and sexy. We all watched anxiously to make sure he was getting just as many tips as the other performers, though we felt a bit delicate about contributing ourselves.

After JB left the stage, Tara returned to the table. She sat down and looked at us with the strangest expression on her face. “I was watching from the back of the room,” she admitted, as we all waited in suspense. “He did pretty good.”

We exhaled, practically in unison.

“Honey he was really, really good,” Kennedy said, nodding emphatically enough to make her chestnut hair swing back and forth.

“You’re a lucky woman,” Michele chimed in. ”And your babies are going to be so gorgeous and coordinated.”

We didn’t know how much was too much to say, and we were all relieved when a loud chorus of “Born to Ride Rough” announced the performance of the guy in leather. He was at least part demon, of a stock I hadn’t encountered before; his skin was reddish, which my com­ panions interpreted as Native American. (It didn’t look anything like that to my eyes, but I wasn’t going to say any different.) He did have black, straight hair and dark eyes, and he knew how to shake his toma­ hawk. His nipples were pierced, which was not my special turn-on, but it was a popular touch with many members of the audience.

I clapped and I smiled, but in truth I was beginning to feel a little bored. Though Eric had I had not been on the same emotional wave­ length lately, we had been operating very well with regard to sex (don’t ask me how this could be so). I began to think I was spoiled. There was no such thing as boring sex with Eric.

I wondered if he’d dance for me, if I asked him nicely. I was having a very pleasant fantasy about that when Claude reemerged on the stage, still in his spangled tights and boots.

Claude was completely confident that the whole room could hardly wait to see more of him, and that kind of confidence pays off He was also incredibly limber and flexible.

“Oh my God!” Michele said, her husky voice almost breaking. “Well! He hardly needs a partner, does he?”

“Wow.” Holly’s mouth was hanging open.

Even I, who had already seen the whole package and knew how disagreeable Claude could be- even I was feeling a jolt of excitement down where I shouldn’t. Claude’s pleasure in receiving all this attention and admiration was almost blissful in its purity.

For the grand finale of the evening, Claude leaped off the stage and danced through the crowd in his man-thong. Everyone seemed determined to unload all their remaining dollar bills-and their fives and a few tens. Claude distributed kisses with abandon, but he dodged more personal touches with an agility that almost betrayed him as other-than-human. When he approached our table, Michele tucked a five under his G-string, saying, “You earned this, buddy,” and Claude’s smile glinted back at hers. Then Claude paused beside me and bent to kiss me on the cheek. I jumped. The women at the surrounding tables shrieked and demanded their own kisses. I was left with the glow in his dark eyes and the unexpected chill left by the touch of his lips.

I was ready to leave a big tip for Gift and get out of there.

Tara drove back, since Michele said she was too tipsy. I knew Tara was glad to have an excuse to be silent. The other women were provid­ ing cover chatter about the fun they’d had, trying to give Tara space to come to terms with the events of the evening.

“I hope I didn’t enjoy it too much,” Holly was saying. ‘Td hate it if Hoyt went to a strip club all the time.”

“Would you mind it if he went once?” I asked.

“Well, I wouldn’t like it,” she said honestly. “But if he was going because he was invited to a stag party or something, I wouldn’t kick up a fuss about it.”

“I would hate it if Jason went,” Michele said.

“Do you think he’d cheat on you with a stripper?” Kennedy asked. I was sure it was the liquor talking.

“If he did, he’d be out the door with a black eye,” Michele said with a derisive snort. After a moment she said in a milder voice, ”I’m a little older than Jason, and maybe my body isn’t quite what it used to be. I look great naked, don’t get me wrong. But probably not as great as the younger strippers.”

“Men are never happy with what they’ve got, no matter how good it is,” Kennedy muttered.

“What’s up with you, girl? You and Danny have a fight over another woman?” Tara asked bluntly.

Kennedy turned a bright, hard look on Tara, and for a minute I thought she’d say something cutting. Then we’d have an open quar­ rel. But Kennedy said, “He’s doing something secret, and he won’t tell me what. He says he’s gonna be gone on Monday/Wednesday/Friday mornings and evenings. He won’t say where he’s going or why.”

Since the fact that Danny was totally smitten with Kennedy was obvious to the dimmest bulb, we were all struck silent with astonish­ ment at her blindness.

“Did you ask him?” Michele said, in her forthright way.

“Hell, no!” Kennedy was too proud (and too scared, but only I knew that) to ask Danny directly.

“Well, I don’t know who to ask or what to ask, but if I hear anything, I’ll tell you. I really don’t think you need to worry about Danny stepping out on you,” I said. How such massive insecurity could lurk behind such a pretty face was amazing to me.

“Thanks, Sookie.” There was a little sob in her voice. Oh, Lord. All the fun of the evening was draining away in a hurry.

We pulled up at the front of my house none too soon. I said my good-byes and my thank-yous in my brightest and most cheerful voice, and then I was hurrying to my front door. Of course the big security light was on, and of course Tara didn’t back out until I’d reached my front door, unlocked it, and stepped inside. I locked the door behind me instantly. Though there were magical wards around the house to keep supernatural enemies away, locks and keys never hurt.

Not only had I worked today, I’d endured the raucous crowd and the pulse-pounding music, and there was all the drama with my friends, too. If you’re telepathic, your brain gets exhausted. But in a contradic­ tory way, I felt too twitchy and restless to head directly to my bed­ room. I decided to check my e-mail.

It had been a couple of days since I’d had a chance to sit down at the computer. I had ten messages. Two were from Kennedy and Holly, setting a time to pick me up. Since that was a done deal, I tapped the Delete button. The next three were ads. Those were gone in a flash. There was a note from Amelia with an attachment, which proved to be a picture of her and her boyfriend, Bob, sitting at a cafe in Paris. “We’re having a good time;’ she wrote. “The community over here is very welcoming. Think my little problem with my NO community has been forgiven. What about you and me?”

“Community” was Amelia’s code word for “coven.” Amelia’s little problem had arisen when she’d accidentally turned Bob into a cat. Now that he was a man again, they’d resumed their relationship.

Go figure. And now Paris! “Some people just lead charmed lives,” I said out loud. As for Amelia and me being “okay”-she’d offended me deeply by try­ ing to shove Aleide Herveaux into my sex life. I’d expected better from her. No, I hadn’t entirely forgiven her, but I was trying.

At that moment there was a quiet knock on the front door. I jumped and spun around in the swivel chair. I hadn’t heard a vehicle, or foot­ steps. Normally, that would mean a vampire had come calling; but when I cast out my extra sense, the brain it encountered was not the blank of a vampire’s, but something else entirely.

There was another discreet knock. I edged to the window and looked out. Then I unlocked the door and flung it open.

“Great-grandfather;’ I said, and leaped up and into his embrace. “I thought I’d never see you again! How are you? Come in!”

Niall smelled wonderful-fairies do. To some extra-sensitive vam­ pire noses, I have a faint trace of the same odor, though I can’t detect it myself.

My ex-boyfriend Bill had told me once that to him the fae smelled like his memory of the taste of apples.

Enveloped in my great-grandfather’s overwhelming presence, I experienced the rush of affection and amazement I always did when I was with him. Tall and regal, clad in an immaculate black suit, white shirt, and black tie, Niall was both beautiful and ancient.

He was also a dab unreliable when it came to facts. Tradition says fairies can’t lie, and the fairies themselves will tell you so-but they sure skirt the truth when it suits them. Sometimes I thought that Niall had lived for so long that his memory simply skipped a beat or two. It was a struggle to remember this when I was with him, but I forced myself to keep it in my mind.

“‘I’m well, as you see.” He gestured at his magnificence, though to do him credit I believe he simply intended to draw my attention to his unwounded state. ”And you are beautiful, as always.”

Fairies are also somewhat flowery in their speech-unless they’ve been living among humans for a long time, like Claude.

“I thought you were sealed off.”

“I widened the portal in your woods,” he said, as if the action had been a casual whim ofhis. After the big deal he’d made about sealing the fae in for the protection of humanity, severing all his business ties with the human world, and so on, he’d enlarged an opening and come through … because he wanted to check on my well-being? Even the fondest great-granddaughter could smell a rat.

“I knew that portal was there,” I said, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

He cocked his head. His white-blond hair moved like a satin cur­tain. “Was it you who put the body in?”

”I’m sorry. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put it.” Corpse dis­posal was not one of my talents.

“It was consumed entirely, if that was your purpose. Please abstain in the future. We don’t want there to be crowding around the portal,” he said in gentle admonishment, rather as though I’d been feeding pets from the dinner table.

“Sorry,” I said. “So-why are you here?” I heard the bluntness of my words and felt myself turning red. “I mean, to what do I owe the honor of your visit? Can I get you a drink or something to eat?”

“No thank you, dearest. Where have you been this evening? You smell of the fae and humans and many other things.”

I took a deep breath and tried to explain Ladies Only night at Hooligans. With every sentence, I felt more of a fool. You should have seen Niall’s face when I told him that one night a week, human women paid to watch men take their clothes off He sure didn’t get it.

“Do men do this also?” he asked. “Go in groups to special build­ings, pay to watch women undress?”

I said, “Yes, men much more often than women. The other nights, that’s what happens at Hooligans.”

“And Claude makes money this way,” Niall said wonderingly.

“Why don’t the men just ask the women to take their clothes off, if they want to see their bodies?”

I took another deep breath but let it out without attempting further explanation. Some topics were just too complicated to tackle, especially with a fairy who’d never lived in our world. Niall was a tourist, not a resident. “Can we bypass this whole discussion until another time, or maybe until never? Surely there’s something more important you want to talk about?” I said.

“Of course. May I sit?”

“Be my guest.” We sat on the couch, angled forward so we were looking into each other’s faces. There’s nothing like having a fairy exam­ ine you to make you acutely aware of your every flaw.

“You’ve recovered well,” he said, to my surprise.

“I have,” I said, trying not to glance down, as if my scarred thigh would show through my clothing.

“It took a while.” Niall meant I looked good for someone who’d been tortured. Two notorious fairies who’d had their teeth sharpened like the elves’ had left me with some permanent physical damage. Niall and Bill had arrived in time to save my body parts and my sanity, if not all of my actual flesh.

“Thanks for coming in time,” I said, forcing a smile on my face. “‘I’ll never forget how glad I was to see you-all.”

Niall waved away my gratitude. “You are my blood,” he said. That was reason enough for him. I thought about my great-uncle Dermot, Niall’s half-human son, who believed Niall had cast a crazy spell on him. Kind of contradictory, huh? I almost pointed that out to Great­ Grandfather, but I did want to keep the peace since I hadn’t seen him in so long.

“When I came through the portal tonight, I smelled blood in the ground around your house,” he said abruptly. “Human blood, fae blood. Now I can tell there is fae blood upstairs in your attic, recently spilled. And fairies are living here now. Who?” Niall’s smooth hands took mine, and I felt a flush of well-being.

“Claude and Dermot have been living here, kind of off and on,” I said. “When Eric stays over, they spend the night in Claude’s house in Monroe.”

Niall looked very, very thoughtful. “What reason did Claude give you for wanting to be in your house? Why did you permit this? Have you had sex with him?” He didn’t sound angry or distressed, but the questions themselves had a certain edge.

“I don’t have sex with relatives, first off;’ I said, an edge to my own voice. My boss, Sam Merlotte, had told me that the fae didn’t necessar­ ily consider such relationships taboo, but I sure did. I took yet another deep breath. I would hyperventilate if Niall stayed very long.

I tried again, this time making an effort to modify my indigna­ tion. “Sex between relatives is not something humans condone,” I told him, making myself stop right there before adding any codicils.

“I have slept in the same bed with Dermot and Claude, because they told me that would make them feel better. And I admit it helped me, too. They both seem kind of lost, since they’re not able to enter Faery. A bunch of the fae got left outside, and they’re pretty miserable.” I did my best not to sound reproachful, but Hooligans was like Ellis Island in lockdown.

Niall was not going to be diverted. “Of course Claude would want to be close to you,” he said. “The company of others with fairy blood is always desirable. Did you suspect … he had any other reason?”
Was this a hint, or just a simple hesitation in Niall’s speech? As a matter of fact, I did think the two fairies had another reason for their attraction to me and my house, but I thought-I hoped-this reason was quite unconscious. This was a chance to unburden myself of a great secret and gain more information about an object I had in my possession. I opened my mouth to tell Niall about what I’d found in a secret compartment in an old desk.

But the sense of caution I’d developed in my life as a telepath … well, that sense jumped up and down, screaming, “Shut up!”

I said, “Do you think they had another reason?”

I noticed Niall had mentioned only his full-fairy grandson, Claude, not his half-human son Dermot. Since Niall had always acted very lovingly toward me, and my blood had only a trace of fairy, I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t equally loving toward Dermot. Dermot had done some bad things, but he’d been under a spell. Niall wasn’t cut­ ting him any slack for that. Just at the moment, Niall was looking at me doubtfully, his head cocked to one side.

My cheeks yanked up in my brightest smile. I felt increasingly uneasy. “Claude and Dermot have been real helpers. They carried down all the old stuff in the attic. I sold it to an antiques dealer in Shreve­ port.” Niall smiled back at me and stood. Before I could say Jack Robinson, he’d glided up the stairs. He came back down them a couple of minutes later. I spent the time sitting there with my mouth hang­ ing open. Even for a fairy, this was odd behavior. “I guess you were up there sniffing Dermot’s blood?” I said warily.

“I can tell I have irritated you, dearest.” Niall smiled at me, and his beauty warmed me. “Why was there bleeding in the attic?”

Niall didn’t even use the pronoun “he.” I said, ”A human came in looking for me. Dermot was working and didn’t hear him coming. The human clocked him one. Hit him on the head,” I explained, when Niall looked confused.

“Is that the human whose blood I smelled outside in the ground?”

There’d been so many. Vampires and humans, Weres and fairies.

I actually had to think a minute. “Could be,” I said at last. “Bellenos healed Dermot, and they caught the guys …” I fell silent. At the mention of Bellenos’s name, Niall’s eyes flashed, and not with joy.

“Bellenos, the elf,” he said.

“Yes.”

His head turned sharply, and I knew he’d heard something I hadn’t.

We’d been too involved in our conversation to hear a car on the driveway, apparently; but Niall had heard the key in the lock.

“Cousin, did you enjoy the show?” Claude called from the kitchen, and I had time to think, Another OSM, before Claude and Dermot walked into the living room.

There was a frozen silence. The three fairies were looking back and forth like gunfighters at the OK Corral. Each one waited for the other to make some decisive gesture that would determine whether they fought or talked.

“My house, my rules;’ I said, and shot up from the couch like someone had lit my ass on fire. “No brawling! Not! Any!”

There was another beat of the tense silence, and then Claude said, “Of course not, Sookie. Prince Niall-Grandfather-I had feared I’d never see you again.”

“Claude,” Niall said, nodding at his grandson. “Hello, Father;’ said Dermot very quietly. Niall didn’t look at his child.

Awkward.

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Aslinn Dhan
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Guest on Tue Apr 03, 2012 8:04 pm

What an excellent find! As always, it looks like its off to a great start, lots going on. Can't wait for the new one to come out so we can gobble it all up.
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Wed Apr 11, 2012 4:44 pm

http://www.gollancz.co.uk/2012/04/a-further-sneak-peek-inside-deadlocked-chapter-two/

Additional Chapter Two

That night, for the first time in forever, I locked my bedroom door. I felt bad when I turned the latch, like I was dishonoring Der­ mot with my suspicions. But the last few years had taught me that one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings was true. An ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure.

If Dermot turned my doorknob during the night, I was too soundly asleep to hear it. And maybe my ability to drop off that deeply meant that on a basic level I trusted my great-uncle. Or trusted the lock. When I woke the next day, I could hear him working upstairs in the attic. His footsteps sounded right above my head.

“I made some coffee,” I called up the stairs. He was down in a minute. Somewhere he’d acquired a pair of denim overalls, and since he wasn’t wearing a shirt underneath, he looked like he was about to take his place in the stripper lineup from the night before as the Sexy Farmer with the Big Pitchfork. I asked Sexy Farmer with a silent ges­ ture if he wanted any toast, and he nodded, happy as a kid. Dermot loved plum jam, and I had a jar made by Maxine Fortenberry, Holly’s future mother-in-law. His smile widened when he saw it.

“I was trying to get as much work finished as I could while it wasn’t so hot,” he explained. “I hope I didn’t wake you up.”

“Nope. I slept like a rock. What are you doing up there today?” Dermot had been inspired by HGTV to hang some doors in the walk-in attic to block off a part of the big room for storage, and he was turning the rest of the floored space into a bedroom for himself. He and Claude had been more or less bunking together in the small bed­ room and sitting room on the second floor. When we’d cleared out the attic, Dermot had decided to ”repurpose” the space. He’d already painted the walls and refinished and resealed the plank floor. I believe he’d recaulked the windows, too.

“The floor is dry now, so I built the new walls. Now I’m actually putting in the hardware to hang the doors. I’m hoping to get that done today and tomorrow. So if you have anything you want to store, the space will be ready.”

When Dermot and Claude had helped me carry everything down from the packed attic, I’d gotten rid of the accumulated Stackhouse debris-generations of discarded trash and treasures. I was practical enough to know that moldering things untouched for decades really weren’t doing anyone any good, and the trash had gone in a large burn pile. The nice items had gone to an antiques store in Shreveport. When I’d dropped by Splendide the week before, Brenda Hesterman and Donald Callaway had told me a few of the smaller pieces had sold.

While the two dealers were at the house looking through the pos­sibilities, Donald had discovered a secret drawer in one of the old pieces of furniture, a desk. In it, I’d found a treasure: a letter from my gran to me and a unique keepsake.

Dermot’s head turned at some noise I couldn’t yet hear. “Motor­cycle coming;’ he said around a mouthful of toast and jelly, sounding almost eerily like Jason. I snapped myself back to reality.

I knew only one person who regularly traveled by motorcycle.

A moment after I heard the motor cut off, there was a knock at the front door. I sighed, reminding myself to remember days like this the next time I felt lonely. I was wearing sleep shorts and a big old T-shirt, and I was a mess, but that would have to be the problem of my uninvited guest.

Mustapha Khan, Eric’s daytime guy, was standing on the front porch. Since it was way too hot to wear leather, his “Blade” imperson­ation had suffered. But he managed to look plenty tough in a sleeve­ less denim shirt and jeans and his ever-present shades. He wore his hair in a geometric burr, a la the Wesley Snipes look in the movies, and I was sure he would have strapped huge weapons to his legs if the gun laws had let him.

“Good morning;’ I said, with moderate sincerity. ”You want a cup of coffee? Or some lemonade?” I tacked on the lemonade because he was looking at me like I was crazy.

He shook his head in disgust. “I don’t take stimulants,” he said, and I remembered-too late-that he’d told me that before. “Some people just sleep their lives away,” he remarked after glancing at the clock on the mantel. We walked back to the kitchen.

“Some people were out late last night,” I said, as Mustapha who was a werewolf-stiffened at the sight and scent of Farmer Dermot.

“I see what kind of work you been doing late,” Mustapha said.

I’d been about to explain that Dermot had been the one who’d worked late, while I’d only watched him work, but at Mustapha’s tone I canceled that plan. He didn’t deserve an explanation. “Oh, don’t be an idiot. You know this is my great-uncle,” I said. “Dermot, you’ve met Mustapha Khan before. Eric’s daytime guy.” I thought it more tact­ ful not to bring up the fact that Mustapha’s real name was KeShawn Johnson.

“He doesn’t look like anyone’s great-uncle,“ Mustapha snarled.

“But he is, and it’s none of your business, anyway.”

Dermot hiked a blond eyebrow. “Do you want to make my presence an issue?” he asked. ”I’m sitting here eating breakfast with my great­ niece. I have no problem with you.”

Mustapha seemed to gather up his stoic Zen-like impassivity, an

important part of his image, and within a few seconds he was his cool self ”If Eric don’t have a problem with it, why should I?” he said. (It would have been nice if he had realized that earlier.) “”m here to tell you a few things, Sookie.”

“Sure. Have a seat.”

“No, thanks. Won’t be here long enough.”

“Warren didn’t come with you?” Warren was most often on the back of Mustapha’s motorcycle. Warren was a skinny little ex-con with pale skin and straggly blond hair and some gaps in his teeth, but he was a great shooter and a great friend of Mustapha’s.

“Didn’t figure I’d need a gun here.” Mustapha looked away. He seemed really jangled. Odd. Werewolves were hard to read, but it didn’t take a telepath to know that something was up with Mustapha Khan. “Let’s hope no one needs a gun. What’s happening in Shreveport that you couldn’t tell me over the phone?”

I sat down myself and waited for Mustapha to deliver his message. Eric could have left one on my answering machine or even sent me an e-mail, rather than sending Mustapha-but like most vamps, he didn’t really have a rock-solid trust in electronics, especially if the news was important.

“You want him to hear this?” Mustapha tilted his head toward Dermot.

“You might be better off not knowing,” I told Dermot. He gave the daytime man a level blue stare that warned Mustapha to be on his best behavior and rose, taking his mug with him. We heard the stairs creak as he mounted them. When Mustapha’s Were hearing told him Dermot was out of earshot, he sat down opposite me and placed his hands side by side on the table very precisely. Style and attitude.

“Okay, I’m waiting,” I said.

“Felipe de Castro is coming to Shreveport to talk about the dis- appearance of his buddy Victor.”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“Say it, Sookie. We’re in for it now.” He smiled. “That’s it? That’s the message?”

“Eric would like you to come to Shreveport tomorrow night to greet Felipe.”

“I won’t see Eric till then?” I could feel my face narrow in a suspi­ cious squint. That didn’t suit me at all. The thin cracks in our relation­ ship would only spread wider if we didn’t get to spend time together.

“He has to get ready,” Mustapha said, shrugging. “I don’t know if he got to clean out his bathroom cabinets or change the sheets or what. ‘Has to get ready’ is what he told me.”

“Right,” I said. “And that’s it? That’s the whole message?” Mustapha hesitated. “I got some other things to tell you, not from Eric. Two things.” He took off his sunglasses. His chocolate-chip eyes were downcast; Mustapha was not a happy camper.

“Okay, I’m ready.” I was biting the inside of my mouth. If Musta­ pha could be stoical about Felipe’s impending visit, I could, too. We were at great risk. We had both participated in the plan to trap Victor Madden, regent of the state of Louisiana, put in place by King Felipe of Nevada, and we had helped to kill Victor and his entourage. What was more, I was pretty sure Felipe de Castro suspected all this with a high degree of certainty.

“First thing, from Pam.”

Blond and sardonic, Eric’s child Pam was as close to a friend as I had among the vamps. I nodded, signaling Mustapha to deliver the message. “She says, ‘Tell Sookie that this is the hard time that will show what she is made of’ ”

I cocked my head. “No advice other than that? Not too helpful. I figured as much.” I’d pretty much assumed Felipe’s post-Victor visit would be a very touchy one. But that Pam would warn me … seemed a bit odd.

“Harder than you know,” Mustapha said intently. I stared at him, waiting for more.

Maddeningly, he did not elaborate. I knew better than to ask him to. “The other thing is from me,” he continued.

Only the fact that I’d had to control my face all my life kept me from giving him major Doubtful. Mustapha? Giving me advice?

”I’m a lone wolf,” he said, by way of preamble.

I nodded. He hadn’t affiliated with the Shreveport werewolves, all members of the Long Tooth pack.

“When I first blew into Shreveport, I looked into joining. I even went to a pack gathering,” Mustapha said.

It was the first chink I’d seen in his ‘Tm badass and I don’t need anyone” armor. I was startled that he’d even tried. Alcide Herveaux, the packleader in Shreveport, would have been glad to gain a strong wolf like Mustapha.

“The reason I didn’t even consider it is because of Jannalynn,” he said. Jannalynn Hopper was Alcide’s enforcer. She was about as big as a wasp, and she had the same nature.

“Because Jannalynn’s really tough and she would challenge someone as alpha as you?” I said.

He inclined his head. “She wouldn’t leave me standing. She would push and push until we fought.”

“You think she could win? Over you.” I made it not quite a ques­ tion. With Mustapha’s size advantage and his greater experience, I could not fathom why Mustapha had a doubt he would be the victor.

He inclined his head again. “I do. Her spirit is big.”

“She likes to feel in charge? She has to be the baddest bitch in the fight?”

“I was in Hair of the Dog yesterday, early evening. Just to spend some time with the other Weres after I got through working for the vamps, get the smell of Eric’s house out of my nose … though we got a deader hanging around at the Hair, lately. Anyway, Jannalynn was talking to Alcide while she was serving him a drink. She knows you loaned Merlotte some money to keep his bar afloat.”

I shifted in my chair, suddenly uneasy. ”I’m a little surprised Sam told her, but I didn’t ask him to keep it a secret.”

“I”m not so sure he did tell her. Jannalynn’s not above snooping when she thinks she ought to know something, and she doesn’t even think of it as snooping. She thinks of it as fact-gathering. Here’s the bottom line: Don’t cross that bitch. You’re on the borderline with her.” “Because I helped Sam? That doesn’t make any sense.” Though my sinking heart told me it did.

“Doesn’t need to. You helped him when she couldn’t. And that galls her. You ever seen her when she’s got a mad on?”

“I”ve seen her in action.” Sam always liked such challenging women. I could only conclude that she saved her softer, gentler side for him.

“Then you know how she treats people she sees as a threat.”

“I wonder why Alcide hasn’t picked Jannalynn as his first lady, or whatever the term is,” I said, just to veer away from the subject for a moment. ”He made her pack enforcer, but I would have thought he would pick the strongest female wolf as his mate.”

“She’d love that,” Mustapha said. “I can smell that on her. He can smell that on her. But she don’t love Alcide, and he don’t love her. She’s not the kind of woman he likes. He likes women his own age, women with a little curve to ‘em. Women like you.”

“But she told Alcide …” I had to stop, because I was hopelessly confused. “A few weeks ago, she advised Alcide he should try to seduce me,” I said awkwardly. “She thought I would be an asset to the pack.”

“If you’re confused, think how Jannalynn’s feeling.” Mustapha’s face might have been carved in stone. “She’s got a relationship with Sam, but you were able to save him when she wasn’t. She halfway wants Alcide, but she knows he wanted you, too. She’s big in the pack, and she knows you have pack protection. You know what she can do to people who don’t.”

I shuddered. “She does enjoy the enforcement,” I said. “I’ve watched her. Thanks for the heads-up, Mustapha. If you’d like a drink or some­ thing to eat, the offer still stands.”

”I’ll take a glass of water,” he said, and I got it in short order. I could hear one of Dermot’s rented power tools going above our heads in the attic, and though Mustapha cocked an eye toward the ceiling, he didn’t comment until he’d finished his drink. “Too bad he can’t come with you to Shreveport,” he said then. “Fairies are good fighters.” Mu­ stapha handed me his empty glass. “Thanks;’ he said. And then he was out the door.

I mounted the stairs to the second floor as the motorcycle roared its way back to Hummingbird Road. I stood in the attic doorway. Dermot was shaving the bottom off one of the doors. He knew I was there, but he kept on working, casting a quick smile over his shoulder to acknowledge my presence. I considered telling him what Mustapha had just told me, simply to share my worries.

But as I watched my great-uncle work, I reconsidered. Dermot had his own problems. Claude had left with Niall, and there was no way of knowing when he’d return or in what condition. Until Claude’s return, Dermot was supposed to make sure all was running smoothly at Hooligans. What would that motley crew be capable of, without Claude’s control? I had no idea if Dermot could keep them in line or if they’d ignore his authority.

I started to launch a boatful of worry about that, but I gave myself a reality check. I couldn’t assume responsibility for Hooligans. It was none of my business. For all I knew, Claude had a system in place and all Dermot had to do was follow it. I could only worry about one bar, and that was Merlotte’s. Kind of alternating with Fangtasia. Okay, two bars.

Speaking of which, my cell phone buzzed me to remind me we were getting a beer delivery that morning. It was time for me to hustle in to work.

“If you need me, you call me,” I told Dermot.

With a proud air, as if he’d learned a clever phrase in a foreign language, Dermot said, “You have a nice day, you hear?”

I took a hasty shower and pulled on some shorts and a Merlotte’s T-shirt. I didn’t have time to blow-dry my hair completely, but at least I put on some eye makeup before I hustled out the door. It felt excellent to shed my supernatural worries and to fall back on thinking about what I had to do at Merlotte’s, especially now that I’d bought into it.

The rival bar opened by the now-deceased Victor, Vic’s Redneck Roadhouse, had taken a lot of customers away. To our relief, the newness of our rival was wearing off, and some of our regulars were return­ ing to the fold. At the same time, the protests against patronizing a bar owned by a shapeshifter had stopped since Sam had started attend­ ing the church that had supplied most of the protesters.

It had been a surprisingly effective countermove, and I am proud to say I thought of it. Sam had blown me off at first, but he’d recon­ sidered when he’d cooled off. Sam had been pretty nervous the first Sunday, and only a handful of people talked to him. But he’d kept it going, if irregularly, and the members were getting to know him as a person first, a shapeshifter second.

I’d loaned Sam some money to float the bar through the worst time. Instead of repaying me bit by bit as I’d imagined he would, Sam now regarded me as a part owner. After a long and cautious conversa­ tion, he’d upped my paycheck and added to my responsibilities. I’d never had something that was kind of my own before. There was no other word for it but “awesome.”

Now that I handled some of the administrative work at the bar and Kennedy could come in as bartender, Sam was enjoying a little more well-earned time off. He spent some of it with Jannalynn. He went fishing, a pastime he’d enjoyed with his dad and mom when he was a kid. Sam also worked on his double-wide inside and out, trim­ ming his hedge and raking his yard, planting flowers and tomatoes in season, to the amusement of the rest of the staff.

I didn’t think it was funny. I thought it was real nice that Sam liked to take care of his home, even if it was parked behind the bar.

What gave me the most pleasure was seeing the tension ease out of his shoulders now that Merlotte’s was on an even keel again.

I was a little early. I had the time to make some measurements in the storeroom. I figured if I had the right to accept beer shipments, I had the right to institute a few changes, too-subject to Sam’s approval and consent, of course.

The guy who drove the truck, Duff McClure, knew exactly where to put the beer. I counted the cases as he unloaded them. I’d offered to help the first time we’d dealt together, and Duff had made it clear it would be a cold day in Hell before a woman helped him do physical work. “You been selling more Michelob lately,” he remarked.

“Yeah, we got a few guys who’ve decided that’s all they’re gonna drink,” I said. “They’ll be back to Bud Light before too long.”

“You need any TrueBlood?”

“Yeah, the usual case.”

“You got a regular vamp clientele.”

“Small but regular,” I agreed, my mind on writing the check for the shipment. We had a few days to pay it, but Sam had always paid on delivery. I thought that was a good policy.

“They take three, four cases at Vic’s,” Duff said conversationally. “Bigger bar.” I began writing the check.

“I guess vamps are everywhere now.”

“Urn-hum,” I muttered, filling it out carefully. I was serious about my check-writing privileges. I signed with a flourish.

“Even that bar in Shreveport, that one that turned out to be for werewolves, they take some blood drinks now.”

“Hair of the Dog?” Hadn’t Mustapha mentioned a vamp who was hanging out at the Were bar?

“Yeah. I delivered there this morning.”

“Huh.” This news was unsettling, but husky Duff was a huge gos­ sip, and I didn’t want him to know he’d shaken me. “Well, everybody’s got to drink,” I said easily. “Here’s your check, Duff. How’s Dorothy?” Duff tucked the check into the zippered pouch he kept in a locked box in the passenger floorboard. “She’s good,” he said with a grin. ”We’re having another young’un, she says.”

“Oh my gosh, how many does that make?”

“This’ll be number three,” Duff said, shaking his head with a rueful grin. “They gonna have to take out some college loans, do it themselves.” “It’ll be fine,” I said, which meant almost nothing except that I felt goodwill toward the McClure family.

“Sure thing,” he said. “Catch you next time, Sookie. I see Sam’s got his fishing pole out. Tell him I said to catch some crappie for me.”

When the truck had gone, Sam came out of the trailer and came over to the bar.

“You did that on purpose,” I said. “You just don’t like Duff.” “Duff’s okay,” Sam said. “He just talks too much. Always has.”

I hesitated a moment. “He says they’re stocking TrueBlood at the

Hair of the Dog.” I was treading on shaky ground. “Really? That’s pretty weird.”

I may not be able to read two-natured minds as easily as I can human minds, but I could tell Sam was genuinely surprised. ]anna­ lynn hadn’t told him a vampire was coming into her bar, a Were bar. I relaxed. “Come on in and let me show you something,” I said. ”I’ve been in there measuring.”

“Uh-oh, you want to move the furniture?” Sam was half-smiling as he followed me into the bar.

“No, I want to buy some;’ I said over my shoulder. “See here?”

I paced off a modest area just outside the storeroom. “Look, right here by the back door. This is where we need us some lockers.”

“What for?” Sam didn’t sound indignant, but like he genuinely wanted to know.

“So we women won’t have to put our purses in a drawer in your desk,” I said. “So Antoine and D’Eriq can keep a change of clothes here. So each employee will have their own little space to store stuff”

“You think we need this?” Sam looked startled.

“So bad,” I said. “Now, I looked in a few catalogs and checked online, and the best price I found …” We continued talking lockers for a few minutes, Sam protesting at the expense, me giving him all kinds of grief, but in a friendly way.

After a token fuss, Sam agreed. I’d been pretty sure he would.

Then it was thirty minutes till opening time, and Sam went behind the bar to start slicing lemons for the tea. I tied on my apron and began to check the salt and pepper shakers on the tables. Terry had come in very early that morning to clean the bar, and he’d done his usual good job. I straightened a few chairs.

“How long has it been since Terry had a raise?” I asked Sam, since the other waitress hadn’t come in yet and Antoine was in the walk-in refrigerator.

“Two years,” Sam said. “He’s due. But I couldn’t go giving raises

until things got better. I still think we better wait until we’re sure we’re level.”

I nodded, accepting his judgment. Now that I’d gone over the books, I could see how careful Sam had been in the good times, saving money up for the bad.

India, Sam’s newest hire, came in ten minutes early, ready to hustle.

I liked her more and more as I worked with her. She was clever at han­ dling difficult customers. Since the only person who came in (when we unlocked the front door at eleven) was our most consistent alcoholic, Jane Bodehouse, India went back to the kitchen to help Antoine, who’d turned on the fryers and heated up the griddle. India was glad to find things to do while she was at work, which was a refreshing change.

Kenya, one of our patrol officers, came and looked around inquir­ ingly. “You need something, Kenya?” I asked. “Kevin’s not here.” Kevin, another patrolman, was deeply in love with Kenya, and she with him. They ate lunch here at least once or twice a week.

“My sister here? She told me she was going to be working today,” Kenya asked.

“Is India your sister?” Kenya was a good ten years older than India, so I hadn’t put them together.

“Half sister. Yeah, our mother would get out the map when we were born,” Kenya said, kind of daring me to find that amusing. “She named us after places she wanted to go. My big brother’s name is Spain. I got a younger one named Cairo.”

“She didn’t stick to countries.”

“No, she threw in a few cities for good measure. She thought the word ‘Egypt’ was ‘too chewy.’ That’s a direct quote.” Kenya was walk­ ing as she talked, following my pointed finger in the direction of the kitchen. “Thanks, Sookie.”

The foreign names were kind of cool. Kenya’s mom sounded like fun to me. My mom hadn’t been a fun person; but then, she’d had a lot to worry about, after she’d had me. I sighed to myself I tried not to regret things I couldn’t change. I listened to Kenya’s voice coming through the serving hatch, brisk and warm and clear, greeting Antoine, telling India that Cairo had fixed India’s car and she should come by to pick it up when she got off work. I brightened when my own brother walked in just as Kenya was leaving. Instead of sitting at the bar or taking a table, he came up to me.

“You think I look like a Holland?” I asked him, and Jason gave me one of his blankest stares.

“Naw, you look like a Sookie,” he said. “Listen, Sook, I’m gonna do it.”

“Gonna do what?”

He looked at me impatiently. I could tell this wasn’t how he’d expected the conversation to go. ”I’m gonna ask Michele to marry me.

“Oh, that’s great!” I said, with genuine enthusiasm. ”Really, Jason, I’m happy for you. I sure hope she says yes.”

“This time I’m going to do everything right,” he said, almost to himself.

His first marriage had been a mistake from the start, and it had ended even worse than it had begun.

“Michele’s got a good head on her shoulders,” I said.

“She’s no kid,” he agreed. “In fact, she’s a little older than me, but she don’t like me to bring that up.”

“You won’t, then, right? No jokes;’ I warned him.

He grinned at me. “No jokes. And she’s not pregnant, and she’s got her own job and her own money.” None of these facts had been true of his first wife.

“Go for it, Brother.” I gave him a quick hug.

He flashed the grin at me, the one that had hooked scores of women. “I”m asking her today when she gets off work. I was gonna eat lunch here, but I’m too nervous.”

“Let me know what she says, Jason. I’ll be praying for you.” I beamed at his back as he left the bar. He was as happy and nervous as I’d ever seen him.

Merlotte’s began to fill up after that, and I was too busy to think much. I love being at work, because I get to be around people and I know what’s going on in Bon Temps. On the other hand, most of the time I know too much. It’s a feathery balance between listening to people with my ears and not listening to them in my head, and it’s not too surprising that I have a big rep for being eccentric. At least most people are too nice to call me Crazy Sookie anymore. I like to think I’ve proved myself to the community.

Tara came in with her assistant, McKenna, to order an early lunch. Tara looked even bigger with her pregnancy than she had at Hooli­ gans the night before.

Since she’d brought McKenna along, I couldn’t ask Tara what I really wanted to know. What had happened when she talked to JB about his second job at Hooligans? Even if he hadn’t seen Tara in the crowd, he’d have to know we were going to tell her.

But Tara was thinking about the shop with great determination, and when she wasn’t planning to restock the lingerie counter, she was concentrating on the Merlotte’s menu-the very limited menu that she knew back and forth-trying to figure out what she could digest, and how many more calories she could ingest, without actually explod­ ing. McKenna’s brain wasn’t any help; though McKenna loved to know every little snippet of information about Bon Temps happenings, she didn’t know about JB’s moonlighting. She would have been vastly interested if I’d told her. McKenna would have loved to be a telepath, for about twenty-four hours.

But after she’d heard stuff like I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to wait till he’s asleep and slash him or I’d like to take her and bend her over the bar and drive my . .. Well, after a day or two of that, she wouldn’t love it so much.

Tara didn’t even go to the ladies’ room by herself. She towed Mc­Kenna along. I looked questioningly at Tara. She glared at me. Not ready to talk, not yet.

When the lunch rush was over, only two tables remained in use, and they were in India’s section. I went back to Sam’s office to work on the endless paperwork. Trees had died to make these forms, and that seemed a great pity to me. I tried to fill out anything I could online, though I was very slow at it. Sam came back to his office to retrieve a screw­ driver from his desk, so I asked him a question about an employee tax form. He was leaning over me to look at it when Jannalynn walked in.

“Hey, Jannalynn,” I said. I didn’t even look at her because I’d iden­tified her mental signature before she’d entered, and I was trying real hard to complete the form while Sam’s instructions were still fresh in my mind.

“Oh, hey, Jan;’ Sam said. I could feel his smile in his voice.

Instead of a response, there was an ominous silence. “What?” I said, filling in one more figure.

I finally looked up to see that Jannalynn was m high offensive mode, her eyes round and wide, her nostrils dilated, her whole slim body tense with aggression.

“What?” I asked again, alarmed. “Are we being attacked?”

Sam remained silent. I swung around in the swivel chair to look up at him, and he was in a posture that was tense, too. But his face was one big warning.

“You two want to be alone?” I scrambled to get up and out from between them.

“I would have thought so before I walked in;’ Jannalynn said, her fists like little hammers.

“What … wait! You thinking Sam and I are fooling around in the office?” Despite Mustapha’s warning, I was genuinely astonished. “Honey, we are filling out tax forms. If you think there’s anything sexy about that, you should get a job with the IRS!”

There was a long moment when I wondered if I was going to get my ass kicked, but gradually the suspense ratcheted down. I did notice that Sam didn’t say anything, not a word, until Jannalynn’s stance had completely relaxed. I took a deep breath.

“Excuse us for a minute, Sookie,” Sam said, and I could tell he was really angry.

“Certainly.” I was out of that room as fast as a greased pig. I would rather have cleaned the men’s room after a Saturday night than have stayed in Sam’s office.

India was helping D’Eriq clear off a table. She glanced at me and half smiled. “What lit your tail on fire?” she asked. “Sam’s scary girlfriend?”

I nodded. “”m just going to find something to do out here;’ I said. This was a very good opportunity to dust the bottles and shelves behind the bar, and I moved them all carefully, cleaning a bit of shelf and moving on to another one.

Though I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in Sam’s office, I reminded myself repeatedly that it wasn’t my business. I had the bar as clean as a whistle by the time Jannalynn and Sam emerged.

“Sorry,” she said to me, with no particular sincerity. I nodded in acknowledgment.

Jannalynn thought, She’ll get Sam if she can.

Oh, please! I thought, She’d be real happy if I died.

And then she left the bar, Sam following her to say good-bye. Or to make sure she actually got in her car. Or both.

By the time he returned, I was so desperate for something to do I was about to start counting the toothpicks in the clear plastic dis­ penser. “We can get back on that paperwork tomorrow,” Sam said in passing, and continued walking. He avoided my eyes. He was surely embarrassed. It’s always good to give people time to recover from that, especially guys, so I cut Sam some slack.

A work crew from Norcross came in, their shift over and some celebration in progress. India and I began putting tables together to accommodate all of them. While I worked, I thought about young shifter women. I’d encountered more than one who was very aggres­ sive, but there were very few female packleaders in the United States, especially in the South. An outstanding few of the female Weres I’d met were extremely vicious. I wondered if this exaggerated aggression was due to the established male power structure in the packs.

Jannalynn wasn’t psychotic, as the Pelt sisters and Marnie Stone­ brook had been; but she was uber-conscious of her own toughness and ability.

I had to abandon theoretical thinking to get the drink orders right for the Norcross men and women. Sam emerged to work behind the bar, India and I began moving at a faster pace, and gradually every­ thing settled back to normal.

Just as I was about to get off work, Michele and Jason came in together. They were holding hands. From Jason’s smile, it was easy to see what her answer had been.

“Seems like we’re going to be sisters,” Michele said in her husky voice, and I gave her a heartfelt hug. I gave Jason an even happier one. I could feel his delight pouring out of his head, and his thoughts weren’t so much coherent as a jumble of pleasure.

“Have you two had time to think about when it’ll be?”

“Nothing stopping us from having it soon,” Jason said. “We’ve both been married already, and we don’t go to church much, so there’s no reason to have a church wedding.”

I thought that was a pity, but I kept my mouth shut. There was nothing to gain and everything to lose by adding my two cents. They were grown-ups.

“I might need to prepare Cork a little bit,” Michele said, smiling. “I don’t think he’ll kick up a fuss over me remarrying, but I do want to break it to him gentle.” Michele still worked for her former father­ in-law, who seemed to have more regard for Michele than he had for his lazy son.

“So it’ll be soon. I hope that it’s okay if I come?”

“Oh, sure, Soak,” Jason said, and hugged me. “We ain’t eloping or anything. We just don’t want a big church thing. We’ll have a party out at the house afterward. Right, honey?” He deferred to Michele.

“Sure,” she said. “We’ll fire up our grill, maybe Hoyt can bring his over, too, and we’ll cook whatever anybody brings. And other guests can bring drinks or whatever, vegetables and desserts. That way no one will worry and we’ll all have a good time.”

A potluck wedding. That was very practical and low-key. I asked them to let me know what I could bring that would be most helpful. After lots of mutual goodwill had been exchanged, they left, still holding hands and smiling.

India said, “Another one bites the dust. How you feeling about this, Sookie?”

“I like Michele real well. I’m so happy!” Sam called, “They engaged?”

“Yeah,” I called back, a few happy tears in my eyes. Sam was mak­ ing an effort to sound upbeat, though he was still a little worried about his own romantic situation. Any irritation I’d felt about the Jannalynn episode simply melted away. Sam had been my friend for years, while significant others came and went. I went up to the bar and leaned against it. “Second time around for both of ‘em. They’re real good together.”

He nodded, accepting my tacit reassurance that I wasn’t going to bring up Jannalynn’s little outburst of jealousy. “Crystal was all wrong for your brother; Michele is all right.”

“In a nutshell;’ I agreed.

Since Holly called in to say her car wouldn’t start but Hoyt was working on it, I was still at Merlotte’s when JB came in about ten minutes later. My friend, the secret stripper, was looking handsome and hearty as always. There’s something about JB, something warm and simple that’s really appealing, especially when added to his non­ threatening good looks. He’s like a great loaf of homemade bread.

“Hey, friend;’ I said. “What can I get for you?”

“Sookie, I saw you last night.” He waited for my big reaction. “I saw you, too.” Just about every inch of him.

“Tara was there,” JB told me, as though that would be news. “I saw her as she was leaving.”

“Uh-huh,” I agreed. “She was.”

“Was she mad?”

“She was real surprised,” I said cautiously. “Are you seriously tell­ing me you-all have not talked about last night?”

“I got in pretty late;’ he said. “I slept out on the couch. When I got up this morning, she’d already gone to the store.”

“Oh, JB.” I shook my head. “Honey, you got to talk to her.”

“What can I say? I know I should have told her.” He made a hope­ less gesture with his hands. “I just couldn’t think of any other way to earn some extra money. Her shop’s not doing so great right now, and

I don’t make a lot. We don’t have good insurance. Twins! That’s gonna be a big hospital bill. What if one of ’em’s sick?”

It was so tempting to tell him not to worry about it- but there was every reason for him to be concerned, and it would be patronizing to tell him he didn’t need to be. JB had made a clever move, for JB; he had found a way to use his assets to make extra money. His downfall had been in not informing his wife he was taking off his clothes in front of many other women on a weekly basis.

We talked off and on while JB nursed a beer at the bar. Tactfully, Sam pretended to be so busy that he was deaf to our intermittent con­ versation. I urged JB to cook something special for Tara that night or to stop off at Wal-Mart and buy her a little bouquet. Maybe he could give her a foot rub and a back massage, anything to make her feel loved and special. ”And don’t tell her how big she is!” I said, poking a finger into his chest. “Don’t you dare! You tell her she’s more beautiful than ever now that she’s carrying your children!”

JB looked exactly as though he were going to say, “But that’s not true.” He was sure thinking it. He met my eyes and clamped his lips shut.

“Doesn’t make any difference what the truth is, you say she looks great!” I told him. “I know you love her.”

JB looked sideways for a minute, testing that statement for its truth value, and then he nodded. ”I do love her,” he said. Then he smiled. “She completes me,” he said proudly. JB loved movies.

“Well, you just complete her right back,” I said. “She needs to feel pretty and adored, because she feels big and clumsy and uncomfort­able. It’s not easy being pregnant, I hear.”

”I’ll try, Sookie. Can I call you if she doesn’t soften up?”

“Yeah, but I know you can work this out, JB. Just be loving and sincere, and she’ll come around.”

“I like stripping,” he said suddenly, as I was turning away. “Yeah, I know,” I said.

“I knew you would understand.” He took a last sip of beer, left Sam a tip, and went to work at the gym in Clarice.

“This must be couples day,” India said. “Sam and Jannalynn, Jason and Michele, JB and Tara.” The thought didn’t seem to make her par­ ticularly happy.

“You still dating Lola?” Though I knew the answer, it was always better to ask.

“Naw. It didn’t work out.”

“”m sorry,” I said. “Maybe some day soon the right woman will just walk in the door of the bar, and you’ll be all fixed up.”

“I hope so.” India looked depressed. ”I’m not a fan of the wedding industry, but I sure would like a steady someone. Dating makes me all confused.”

“I never was any good at dating.”

“That why you go with the vamp? To scare off everyone else?”

“I love him,” I said steadily. “That’s why I go with him.” I didn’t point out that human guys were simply impossible for me. You can imagine reading your date’s mind every minute. No, it really wouldn’t be any fun, would it?

“No need to get all defensive;’ India said.

I thought I’d been matter-of-fact. “He’s fun,” I said mildly, “and he treats me nice.”

“They’re … I don’t know how to ask this, but they’re cold, right?” India wasn’t the first person who’d tried to find a delicate way to ask me that. There wasn’t any delicate way.

“Not room temperature,” I said. I left it at that, because any more was none of anyone else’s business.

“Damn,” she said, after a moment. After a longer moment, she said, “Ew.”

I shrugged. She opened her mouth, looked as though she wanted to ask me something else, and then she closed it.

Fortunately for both of us, her table gestured that they wanted their bill, and one of Jane Bodehouse’s buddies came in drunk off her ass, so we both had things to do. Holly finally arrived to relieve me, complaining about her no-good car. India was working a double shift, so she kept her apron on. I waved a casual good-bye to Sam, glad to be walking out the door.

I just made it to the library before it closed, and then I stopped by the post office to buy some stamps from the machine in the lobby. Hal­ leigh Bellefleur was there on the same errand, and we greeted each other with real pleasure. You know how sometimes you just like someone, though you don’t hang around with them? Halleigh and I don’t have much of anything in common, from our background to our educational level to our interests, but we like each other, anyway. Halleigh’s baby bump was pronounced, and she looked as rosy as Tara looked wrecked.

“How’s Andy doing?” I asked.

“He’s not sleeping well, he’s so excited about this baby,” she said. “He calls me from work to ask how I am and to find out how many times the baby kicked.”

“Sticking with ‘Caroline’?”

“Yeah, he was real pleased when I suggested that. His grandma brought him up, and she was a fine woman, if a little on the scary side.” Halleigh smiled.

Caroline Bellefleur had been more than a little on the scar y side. She’d been the last great lady of Bon Temps. She had also been my friend Bill Compton’s great-granddaughter. Halleigh’s baby would be three more greats away.

I told Halleigh about Jason’s engagement, and she said all the right things. She was as polite as Andy’s grandmother- and a hell of a lot warmer.

Though it was good to see Halleigh, when I got back into the car with my stamps I was feeling a little blue. I turned the key in the igni­ tion, but I didn’t put the car in reverse.

I knew I was a lucky woman in many respects. But there was life being created all around me, and I wasn’t …

I shut down that line of thought with a sharp command to myself I would not start down the self-pity path. Just because I wasn’t pregnant and wasn’t married to someone who could make me that way, that was no reason to feel like an island in the stream. I shook myself briskly and set off to complete the rest of my errands. When I caught a glimpse of Faye de Leon coming out of Grabbit Kwik, my attitude adjusted. Faye had been pregnant six times, and she was around my age. She’d told Maxine Fortenberry that she hadn’t wanted the last three. But her hus­ band loved to see her pregnant, and he loved kids, and Faye allowed herself to be used “like a puppy mill,” as Maxine put it.

Yes, attitude adjustment, indeed.

I had my evening meal and watched television and read one of my new library books that night, and I felt just fine, all by myself, every time I thought about Faye.

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Aslinn Dhan
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

Post  Guest on Wed Apr 11, 2012 8:06 pm

Excellent find Aslinn! I'm really looking forward to reading the whole book when it comes out! Whoo Hooo!
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Re: Deadlocked Book Twelve

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