Bill was hunched over the computer when I let myself in his house. This was an all-too-familiar scenario in the past month or two. He'd torn himself away from his work when I came home, until the past couple of weeks. Now it was the keyboard that attracted him.
"Hello, sweetheart," he said absently, his gaze riveted to the screen. An empty bottle of type O TrueBlood was on the desk beside the keyboard. At least he'd remembered to eat.
Bill, not a jeans-and-tee kind of guy, was wearing khakis and a plaid shirt in muted blue and green. His skin was glowing, and his thick dark hair smelled like Herbal Essence. He was enough to give any woman a hormonal surge. I kissed his neck, and he didn't react. I licked his ear. Nothing.
I'd been on my feet for six hours straight at Merlotte's Bar, and every time some customer had under-tipped, or some fool had patted my fanny, I'd reminded myself that in a short while I'd be with my boyfriend, having incredible sex and basking in his attention.
That didn't appear to be happening.
I inhaled slowly and steadily and glared at Bill's back. It was a wonderful back, with broad shoulders, and I had planned on seeing it bare with my nails dug into it. I had counted on that very strongly. I exhaled, slowly and steadily.
"Be with you in a minute," Bill said. On the screen, there was a snapshot of a distinguished man with silver hair and a dark tan. He looked sort of Anthony Quinn-type sexy, and he looked powerful. Under the picture was a name, and under that was some text. "Born 1756 in Sicily," it began. Just as I opened my mouth to comment that vampires did appear in photographs despite the legend, Bill twisted around and realized I was reading.
He hit a button and the screen went blank.
I stared at him, not quite believing what had just happened.
"Sookie," he said, attempting a smile. His fangs were retracted, so he was totally not in the mood in which I'd hoped to find him; he wasn't thinking of me carnally. Like all vampires, his fangs are only fully extended when he's in the mood for the sexy kind of lust, or the feeding-and-killing kind of lust. (Sometimes, those lusts all get kind of snarled up, and you get your dead fang-bangers. But that element of danger is what attracts most fang-bangers, if you ask me.) Though I've been accused of being one of those pathetic creatures that hang around vampires in the hope of attracting their attention, there's only one vampire I'm involved with (at least voluntarily) and it was the one sitting right in front of me. The one who was keeping secrets from me. The one who wasn't nearly glad enough to see me.
"Bill," I said coldly. Something was Up, with a capital U. And it wasn't Bill's libido. (Libido had just been on my Word-A-Day calendar.)
"You didn't see what you just saw," he said steadily. His dark brown eyes regarded me without blinking.
"Uh-huh," I said, maybe sounding just a little sarcastic. "What are you up to?"
"I have a secret assignment."
I didn't know whether to laugh or stalk away in a snit. So I just raised my eyebrows and waited for more. Bill was the investigator for Area 5, a vampire division of Louisiana. Eric, the head of Area 5, had never given Bill an "assignment" that was secret from me before. In fact, I was usually an integral part of the investigation team, however unwilling I might be.
"Eric must not know. None of the Area 5 vampires can know."
My heart sank. "So - if you're not doing a job for Eric, who are you working for?" I knelt because my feet were so tired, and I leaned against Bill's knees.
"The queen of Louisiana," he said, almost in a whisper.
Because he looked so solemn, I tried to keep a straight face, but it was no use. I began to laugh, little giggles that I couldn't suppress.
"You're serious?" I asked, knowing he must be. Bill was almost always a serious kind of fellow. I buried my face on his thigh so he couldn't see my amusement. I rolled my eyes up for a quick look at his face. He was looking pretty pissed.
"I am as serious as the grave," Bill said, and he sounded so steely, I made a major effort to change my attitude.
"Okay, let me get this straight," I said in a reasonably level tone. I sat back on the floor, cross-legged, and rested my hands on my knees. "You work for Eric, who is the boss of Area 5, but there is also a queen? Of Louisiana?"
"So the state is divided up into Areas? And she's Eric's superior, since he runs a business in Shreveport, which is in Area 5."
Again with the nod. I put my hand over my face and shook my head. "So, where does she live, Baton Rouge?" The state capital seemed the obvious place.
"No, no. New Orleans, of course."
Of course. Vampire central. You could hardly throw a rock in the Big Easy without hitting one of the undead, according to the papers (though only a real fool would do so). The tourist trade in New Orleans was booming, but it was not exactly the same crowd as before, the hard-drinking, rollicking crowd who'd filled the city to party hearty. The newer tourists were the ones who wanted to rub elbows with the undead; patronize a vampire bar, visit a vampire prostitute, watch a vampire sex show.
This was what I'd heard; I hadn't been to New Orleans since I was little. My mother and father had taken my brother, Jason, and me. That would have been before I was seven, because that's when they died.
Mama and Daddy died nearly twenty years before vampires had appeared on network television to announce the fact that they were actually present among us, an announcement that had followed on the Japanese development of synthetic blood that actually maintained a vampire's life without the necessity of drinking from humans.
The United States vampire community had let the Japanese vampire clans come forth first. Then, simultaneously, in most of the nations of the world that had television - and who doesn't these days? - the announcement had been made in hundreds of different languages, by hundreds of carefully picked personable vampires.
That night, two and half years ago, we regular old live people learned that we had always lived with monsters among us.
"But" - the burden of this announcement had been - "now we can come forward and join with you in harmony. You are in no danger from us anymore. We don't need to drink from you to live."
As you can imagine, this was a night of high ratings and tremendous uproar. Reaction varied sharply, depending on the nation.
The vampires in the predominantly Islamic nations had fared the worst. You don't even want to know what happened to the undead spokesman in Syria, though perhaps the female vamp in Afghanistan died an even more horrible - and final - death. (What were they thinking, selecting a female for that particular job? Vampires could be so smart, but they sometimes didn't seem quite in touch with the present world.)