Close to Dead

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Chapter 28: Tickled Pink

I was glad to be going home. We ended up spending yet another night in Las Vegas, and we weren’t due to leave until the night after that. Eric explained that it was so he could tie up some ‘loose ends’. That was fine with me. I found that I liked the nightlife of Vegas. Iain and I went to a human hotel and saw a real Vegas show, with showgirls (did you know they didn’t wear tops?) and an Elvis impersonator. Bubba might have gotten a kick out of that. We even ate at an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet and then we played the slots. I won twenty-five dollars.

I found that I liked Iain. He was a sweet, guarded man. He was every bit as handsome as Larkin, but his beauty wasn’t borderline scary. It was just plain old beautiful. I noticed that everywhere we went people looked at him. He could pass as human … a human sent from heaven above, but human nonetheless. He told me a bit about himself. His mother was human. He was raised mostly as a human, although he had always known that Fintan was his father, and what Fintan was. He had never met Niall. He found out about Larkin when he was twelve and Larkin was fourteen. They had different mothers, and to hear Iain tell it, very different upbringings.

He told me that day Larkin changed him over to a ‘monster’ (his words, not mine, though I suppose that’s easier than to keep saying, ‘part fae, part human, part vampire’) was the worst day of his life. He said up until then he lived a normal life. He had a girlfriend, parents: human mother and a fairy father, but still, he knew Fintan well and had a lot of respect for the man. He also said that he had a successful career as a chef.

Then Larkin made him into the same thing he was, and his life was never the same.

He told me that he had met Hadley several times after he changed. Surprisingly enough, he told me that he had also met Hunter, Hadley’s son. He said he was friendly with Hadley’s ex-husband, but that the man didn’t know he was (again in his words, not mine) a freak.

I truly thought Iain and I were kindred spirits. He was as lonely and scared and confused and as unhappy as I sometimes was. I hate to admit that I feel that way, because even though my life (up to now) has been filled with a lot of crazy, mixed up shit, it has also had a lot of happiness. To hear him tell it, that was an exact replica of his life.

When it was around three-thirty in the morning, we left the little casino and started back to the vampire hotel. I asked him what he was going to do with his life now. He said he honestly didn’t know. We were so very much alike.

He said that Eric offered him his continued protection. We walked out of the cab, but before we entered the doors to the hotel, I took his hand.

“Iain, you don’t have to go back to a life in hiding. You can go back to your normal life. I mean that maybe your former girlfriend will accept you as you are. You can go out in the daytime, so perhaps you don’t even have to tell anyone what you are. You can have a very normal, happy life. You don’t have to go back to Eric.” Again, I felt like I was saying the words to myself.

“Yes, I do. There are vampires out there who might discover my secret, and the secret of my blood. With Larkin gone, his few clientele might search for me, and they will use me, and not kindly. Besides, I don’t think I even know what normal is anymore. At least with Eric, I know I’ll be taken care of, cared for, and not abused,” he explained.

My God, that really was how I felt.

“Does Eric use your blood to stay awake in the daytime, sometimes?” I inquired hesitantly.

“Occasionally,” he explained, “but I am compensated. I know he takes some of my blood for a few of his associates as well.”

“Larkin said that my blood wasn’t potent enough to really work for keeping vamps awake in the daylight. Do you know if that’s true?” I asked.

He took my hand, ushered me slightly away from the doors of the hotel, under the portico, and said, “No, I don’t suppose it is, because your fairy heritage isn’t as pronounced as ours, and you aren’t part vampire. I am truly one of a kind now. Besides, there is an extra piece of magic that is involved to make it work—fairy magic, and you don’t need to know about that.”

Suddenly, he grabbed me to him and hugged me tightly. While I was in his arms he said, “I want the best for you, yet I barely know you. Please, take care of yourself, and make all decisions regarding your future with only your own interest in mind.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant. I pushed away from him slightly, and when I did, he dipped his head and brushed his lips lightly across mine. It wasn’t a romantic kiss, but I still felt tingling in my tummy. I also felt incredibly sad.

Then I heard the sound of someone clearing his throat. Iain and I turned toward the sound at the same time. Resting against the outside wall of dark windows, near the front doors of the hotel, was Eric. He held out his hand for me. He didn’t say a word to either of us, but we both knew what he wanted. Iain nodded to me, then to Eric, and walked in the hotel. I placed my hand in his, and then I rushed to him, released his hand, and grabbed him tightly around the waist.

He stroked my hair and said, “Well now that you’re hugging me so tight, I can’t make the smart remark I was going to make upon seeing you kiss another man.”

“I want to go home,” I answered, as if that was what he had asked.

“I know. Everything is taken care of here, and I booked us a flight that leaves this evening, around seven pm, after we rest today. I’ll be able to fly with you, in the cabin. Everyone from our party will be leaving tonight. It’s a private plane, part of Anubis Air, provided by the NVA especially for us, for reparation for all our trouble.”

“Ah, it’s good to be king, huh?” I joked.

“About that,” he started, with a sly smile, “what are your thoughts on my being king? Are you going to start calling me ‘Your Highness’?” He cocked one brow in the air and swung an arm easily around my neck as we walked in the door of the vampire hotel.

I laughed, a true, hard laugh. “The day I call you ‘Your Highness’ is the day you show total fealty to me, buster.”

“I thought as much.” He smiled when he said it.

Later, after we had slept, packed, and gotten to the airport and on the plane, we were high in the air, somewhere over the United States. Eric and I sat next to each other in the front of the small plane. He took my hand and said, “By the way, fealty to you aside, I’ve decided not to become king.”

“What?” I was shocked. “But Eric,” I began, “Wasn’t that what all of this shit was about?”

“Ending in prepositions again, lover?” he teased. “And no, in your eloquent phrasing, all of this shit wasn’t about me being king. It was about freedom. I wanted our freedom from the Nevada vamps. I wanted freedom for our own little part of the world, or Louisiana as it may be.”

“I can’t believe this,” I said uneasily, my head shaking this way and that. I looked across the aisle at Iain, who was sitting next to Pam. His eyes were closed, so he might be sleeping. Pam was reading a romance novel, of all things. I looked back a seat to Bill, who was on his computer. I knew they all could hear us, and the fact that none of them seemed surprised, or even interested, told me that this wasn’t news to them.

I looked back in the eyes of my vampire, “Eric, don’t do this for me.”

He laughed, and as sincere as my laugh was before, his was just as genuine. “Oh, Sookie, that’s a good one. I didn’t give up a kingdom for you, although that’s a very romantic notion. If I wasn’t on some truthfulness kick with you, I might lead you to believe that, but since my former lies caused you so much heartache, I’m not lying to you this time.”

He looked thoughtfully out the window. “Being king was never something I truly wanted. I wanted what was mine, and no more. I wanted my area back, with final say. I wanted my people safe. I wanted to conduct business as I saw fit. I wanted nothing to harm you, ever again. Simple things, really, but then again, I’m a simple man.” He turned to look at me with what I can only call an impish grin.

“Simple? You’re the most complex character I’ve ever met.” I grabbed his hand. “You have a terrible temper, yet you’re even-keeled most of the time. You have a single-minded sense of justice that’s a bit old fashioned, yet you’re also very forward thinking when it comes to business. You’re so full of life, and so full of crap, that sometimes I don’t know what to expect.”

He was still smiling, even when he took my hand and brought it to his mouth and kissed the top of it.

“So then, who’s the new king, or queen, as it may be?”

He shrugged slightly. “They haven’t yet decided. I guess I am acting sovereign, but I made it clear it wasn’t to be permanent. I did negotiate a bigger piece of the pie, and I asked for a slight realignment of the hierarchy when the new king, or as you said, queen, is named, so that I never have to worry about things again.”

“Things?” I asked pointedly.

“Yes, things,” he returned evenly.

“You mean like me?” I asked provocatively.

“Are you a thing?” he challenged.

“You know I’m not, Eric, so don’t be bad,” I bit back, though I knew he was kidding with me. “I just thought maybe you were giving it all up for me, or something.”

The low rumble of laughter that went through him told me I was either crazy, or closer to the mark than he wanted to admit. He glowered at me, “Sookie, one would think that you have been reading as many romance novels as Pam there. Do I look like a man who would give up a kingdom for you?”

He was decidedly non-chatty after that because he closed his eyes. He kept my hand in his, but all talking ceased. Since I knew he wasn’t sleeping, and I didn’t think he was on ‘downtime’, I figured he was merely finished talking to me. Fine. I really didn’t have much more to say. I was pleased, frankly. More than pleased, I was tickled pink. I always did hate all the vampire politics that came with his job, but he always seemed to thrive on it so much, but maybe he had changed.

Or maybe he was giving it up for me, no matter what he said. I looked back over at him. Then I quickly looked over toward Pam. I reached over for her book, said, “Excuse me,” and I pulled the book to me and looked closely at the cover. There was a picture of a romance novel hero, long blonde hair (I kid you not), holding a woman with equally long blond hair, to his chest. They were standing on a rocky cliff; he was in a tartan kilt, and she had on a peasant blouse and skirt. The book was called, To Tame a Charming Rogue. I passed the book back to Pam and I laughed.

I looked at my charming rogue, bit my bottom lip, and laughed some more. No, he hadn’t given it all up for me, so I squashed that romantic notion down quickly. However, he did love me.

He opened one eye to look at me, then another. Then he wiggled his eyebrows. I laughed some more. I could tell through the bond that he knew why I was laughing, and even if we didn’t have the bond, Eric always had gotten my humor, even when no one else ever had.

He leaned over close to me, licked his lips, and pulled lightly on a strand of my hair to make me lean closer to him. “Have you ever made love on a plane, Sookie?” he whispered silkily.

Oh yes, I liked my rogues untamed, yes indeed, and thank you very much.

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