The transition from the up-market London cafés of Sarah’s university years to Merlotte’s Bar and Grill had not been a smooth one. The florescent lights of the grill held none of the cosy lustre of a café on a winter’s morning when the smell of baking bread could warm even the coldest soul. After years of catering to University students and upmarket business executives, the patronage had taken some getting used to, though, for the most part, Sarah loved the sweetness of the southern drawl and the homely feel in a genuine Bon Temps smile. The smell, however, had been the hardest part to acclimatise to; instead of the rich smell of coffee, her nose was haunted by the thick scent of alcohol and deep-fried food. Even after a year and a half of waitressing at Merlotte’s, the potent aroma still made her stomach churn when one of the regular patrons took the liberty of breathing on her. The locals chalked it up as an ‘English girl weakness’ but even Sookie and Arlene turned green in the face in those moments.
As soon as the clock hit eleven, Sarah untied her apron, ducking into Sam’s office to grab her handbag. She paused at the bar, wanting to say goodbye to Sookie. Sarah had found a true friend in Sookie the moment she had arrived in Bon Temps, but Sarah had feared to get too close: every day she saw how fear of the unknown bred hate against vampires. Three months into their blossoming friendship, just when Sarah was wondering if she should distance herself, Sookie burst out in a fit of guilt that she was different too. Sarah had learned then that the sweet blonde could read minds, and, for the first time, she felt to talk about her abilities with someone other than her brother Jake.
Sarah leant on the bar. ‘I’m heading home for the night. I promised Jake that I’d see him off tomorrow.’
‘Of course,’ Sookie said, tucking the tray she held at her side as she flashed a bright smile. The expression always came so easily to her, despite the things that had happened over the years. ‘What time is he leaving?’
‘Around lunch,’ Sarah answered, quickly tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear, ‘you have a good night with Bill. Happy anniversary. Is it three years?’
Sookie fiddled with the ring on her finger, the diamond glinting for a moment as she smiled. ‘It is. I can’t believe how fast it’s gone.’
Sarah reached across the bar and Sookie took her hand. ‘Have fun tonight,’ Sarah said, giving her hand a quick squeeze, ‘I’ll see you night after tomorrow, okay?’
‘Okay. Drive safe.’
Sarah waved over her shoulder as she headed for the exit. She dug inside her handbag, her head down as she looked for her keys. She glanced up as she heard low words being exchanged ahead, not wanting to walk into the men, but the scene caught her off guard.
Bill had always been kind to her. He’d been one of the people to help her and her brother move into their new home, after the sun had set, and his southern drawl never ceased to lull her. She was surprised to see him so tense, his hands clenched at his sides, his brows drawn as he glared up at the blond man.
In the year and a half that Sarah had lived in Bon Temps, she had only caught glimpses of Eric Northman’s towering frame. All she knew about him could be summarised in a sentence: he was a vampire, and he was absolutely gorgeous. He was ‘totally bang-able’ according to gossip among the Bon Temps ladies, though many vehemently denied they would consider being unfaithful to their men. Sarah had no such restraints, as her hormones liked to remind her regularly, and now that she had finally gotten a decent look at him she could understand why so many swooned at the mere sight of the vampire. His golden hair was sculpted to carefree perfection, a few strands escaping the confines of the wax. He wore a shadow of stubble that accentuated his jaw and framed lips that often curved in a wicked smirk. Her eyes trailed down and she couldn’t help but note that his grey suit was tailored perfectly over strong legs and an arse she bet she could bounce a penny off.
Sarah quickened her pace when Bill’s hand rose, pulling him into a quick hug to diffuse the situation as she said, ‘happy anniversary, Bill!’ She held tight, feeling his stiff shoulders release as he returned the embrace. When she pulled back, placing herself between the two men, she forced her brightest smile over her lips. ‘Sookie’s waiting inside for you. She hasn’t been able to talk about anything else all night.’
Bill’s expression softened, his blue eyes suddenly brighter. ‘Why thank you, Sarah. That is very kind of you,’ he said, that southern drawl flowing over her like honey, ‘I should go get her. I promised her dinner.’
‘Have fun,’ Sarah said, refusing to move until she was certain that Bill was calm. She dared a glance at Eric when she turned towards her car, offering a quick smile and a hasty good night before she hurried off; she had no desire to discover exactly which emotions swirled in his icy gaze.
Bill squared his shoulders, looking up at the Sheriff of Area Five, shadows flickering in his gaze. He kept his brow drawn, though one eyebrow arched in challenge. ‘Are we done?’ he asked, his voice lowered, eyes glancing to Sarah to make sure she heard no more of the terse exchange.
‘Yes,’ Eric replied absently. He glanced sideways at Sarah, his lips quirking as he watched her hips sway. He had lost all interest in the confrontation, his curiosity – or perhaps it was his testosterone – getting the best of him. He turned with an absent wave of dismissal to follow the brunette, his eyes locked on the chocolate strands as she loosened her messy bun. He barely spared Bill a goodbye and he felt the eyes of the far younger vampire stare after him for a moment before his steps moved toward Merlotte’s.
He walked quietly, his footsteps hardly making a scuff in the dirt as he came into step a few metres behind her. In recent years, with vampires out of the closet, he knew only one other human who would step between two vampires: Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie, he knew, could defend herself if necessary. What gave this Sarah, a meek English woman who could hardly be taller than five foot two the courage to even try to diffuse an argument?
Eric paused a few feet behind her when she stopped at the driver’s door of a small, dusty, silver Honda. She rummaged in her bag, making a little sound of relief when she located the keys. She unlocked her car and he sensed her pause, heard her breath hitch before she turned, a shout of surprise leaving her lips. He almost laughed as she brandished her keys at him and his curiosity grew. Moments before she had interrupted a heated confrontation; now she jumped at his reflection in the window.
She clutched at her chest with delicate fingers, her heartbeat fast and erratic, the strong sound music to the hunger that growled inside him. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking a breath. ‘Geez,’ she sighed, ‘you scared me.’
‘I can see that,’ he said, a smirk coming over his lips that almost made her stutter.
She had to crane her neck to look up at him when he stepped closer. ‘Is there something I can do for you?’ she asked, her voice nowhere near as strong as she’d hoped it would be, a little waver within that teased his more predatory senses.
‘Yes,’ he said, his head tilting to the side a little, ‘I’m curious.’
‘About what?’ she asked, unable to stop the suspicious rise in her voice, her heart kicking up a gear in her chest. What could a man like him have to be curious about when it came to her? She had never felt she was worth even a glance from any attractive man, but he seemed to be looking for a conversation.
‘What possessed you to step between two vampires while they were having an argument?’
‘An argument?’ she repeated, hoping that she sounded innocent, though she had never really been a good liar, ‘I just wanted to congratulate Bill on his anniversary. He and Sookie have been married for three years now.’
‘Of course,’ he said, his smirk turning into a wicked grin.
Sarah kicked herself mentally as some part of her imagined that he would stop using those lips to smile and start using them to kiss her. She was surprised by the sudden intrusion of her hormones, but she couldn’t deny that Eric had one of the sexiest mouths she’d ever seen.
‘Yep, simple as that,’ she said, her hand slowly travelling to grasp the door handle behind her, ‘now if you’ll excuse me…’
The door latch had barely clicked open when Eric’s hand darted out. He leant close, a hand on either side of her, icy eyes filled with interest as he gazed down. She pushed back against her car, his towering height and broad chest boxing her in. She felt her cheeks flush as he stared down at her, a hint of a smirk on his lips as he traced her face with his gaze.
‘I don’t think it is that simple,’ he said, ‘I can understand why you’re not afraid of Bill.’ He leant close, his lips brushing over her neck, breathing in her curious yet delicious scent, sending a little shiver down her spine. ‘But you seem very scared of me. Why put yourself in the middle?’
‘I don’t really like it when people invade my personal space,’ she said, her voice a little stronger than before as she stared up at him. He was right; she was scared of him, but she’d still suppressed a shiver at the caress of his lips and even now found her gaze drawn to them.
Eric could smell a note of fear on her skin, but it was nothing compared to the luscious scent of her desire as her eyes focused on his lips.
I’m not the only one who’s curious, it seems, he thought, having to duck his head to catch her eyes.
‘Sweep your hair aside for me.’
The icy blue pools swirled, drawing her into the depths of his gaze. She suppressed another shiver at the request, his voice flowing over her like velvet, so rich and deep, but she just held her composure, gulping before she asked, ‘why?’
The wicked smile dropped from his lips, his eyes growing dull. ‘Why aren’t you glamoured?’
Her jaw nearly dropped at the word. ‘You tried to glamour me?’
‘And it should have worked,’ he said, grasping her chin in his hand, holding her gaze as he tried again, but her eyes stayed clear, ‘what are you?’
Sarah felt anger coil low in her gut, igniting fast and fierce at being manhandled by the vampire.
A man in Bon Temps finally shows interest in me after a more than a year in this freaking town and rather than ask for a date he tries to glamour me? How fucked up is my life?
‘A person!’ she snapped and she grasped his wrist and dragged it from her chin.
Eric cried out at the contact and wrenched his arm away. As he stumbled back a step he looked down, eyes wide as he stared at the handprint that was burnt into his skin. He watched it blister futilely, the wound quickly struggling to heal after such intense heat. He dragged his eyes from his arm, levelling them on her, her heartbeat screaming as she pressed further back against her car.
‘I’m… oh God… I’m sorry.’ She scrambled to open her car door, dragging her seatbelt on as she turned the ignition and stomped it into gear. She drove off, not daring to look back as she sped into the night, desperately hoping that Eric Northman would not follow.
Sarah cursed her emotions, slamming the heel of her palm against the steering wheel. At fifteen, when her powers first started to show, she told her older brother Jake, then eighteen, and he accepted her. Sookie only knew because she was a mind reader and had picked it straight from Sarah’s thoughts on her first day of work at Merlotte’s. She encouraged Sarah to share it with Bill in case he had ever heard of a person with similar abilities, but he knew of nothing, so Sarah and Sookie bonded; they both had abilities they couldn’t explain, and which they feared no one would understand. Apart from her three closest friends, she had always hidden her abilities; her brother, Sookie, and Bill were the only people in on the secret.
In her youth, Sarah was scared that people might hurt her for being different, and after seeing the harsh reactions to vampires when they revealed themselves to the world she knew she would be condemned as they were, but her powers – whatever they were - were becoming more and more difficult to control each passing year.
Sarah forced herself to take a few deep breaths, her mind a clamour of fear and anger. She concentrated on the road and slowed down, realising that she had been speeding, the trees becoming less of a blur as she glanced back in her rear view mirror. She felt calmer knowing that Eric was not following, and she reminded herself that he was a vampire, and an old one at that, or so she’d heard.
If he’d wanted to stop you, he would probably just put his hand on your bonnet and laughed at your poor little car revving its guts out.
Her breaths were steadier at the thought, and she almost felt a smile creep over her lips as more of the stress rolling off her shoulders at the comical image, but the relief was short-lived. She screamed as a truck rounded the corner in the middle of the road. She threw her car onto the hard shoulder to avoid it but the small Honda couldn’t handle the sudden manoeuvre. Tires skidded, her car bouncing violently as it careened off the road. The little Honda slammed into a thick tree trunk, her airbag bursting forth as the roar of crunching metal filled her ears, glass raining down as her front window shattered.
Sarah slumped back in her seat, her eyelids heavy as she tried to shake off the creeping darkness. Her head lolled forward and she jerked it back up, fighting for consciousness, knowing that she should stay awake, but her eyes slid closed, her body limp as the engine sizzled with steam.
Eric held his wrist, a hiss of pain escaping his lips as the last of the burn healed. He had watched her taillights until they disappeared around the corner, too surprised to react. The moment she stepped between him and Bill he thought there was something different about her. He had assumed that it was just her blood. Her scent had been tantalising, urging him to have a taste; he was hungry, after all. Now he knew it was much more than hunger that drew him to her, and his curiosity grew.
Eric straightened his sleeve, glancing back at Merlotte’s. He could hear Bill and Sookie inside, hear her swooning as the younger vampire showered her in compliments. When he listened hard enough he could even hear the things he whispered, the quiet words not meant for other ears. If he strained, he could hear Sarah’s car as she sped off into the distance, the gutless little Honda revving with a piercing hum. He turned his head, facing his ear towards the car. He wanted to follow her. Never before had he heard of a being which could burn flesh at a single touch. His curiosity screamed at him.
Among other things.
He smirked at the thought, only mildly surprised. Even when she’d first stepped in between him and Bill, he’d felt a strong spark of interest, not just because of her courage, but because of the little shorts she wore, cut high to show off gorgeous strong thighs and a hint of her curves. He’d barely stopped himself from licking his lips when she’d walked away with her curvy hips and her plump arse swaying like sin on legs.
And then there were her lips. He allowed himself to muse over them, over the thought of kissing her, over the thought of claiming her plump, red lips with his own.
He paused his musings, wondering again if he should follow her as his head turned towards her car and the buzz of the engine as it ran along the Bon Temps roads, but the sound was almost drowned out by the roar of a much bigger machine until her piercing scream and the sound of screeching tyres rang in his ears.
It took Eric less than a minute to follow the sound and find the wreckage of her silver Honda, or what was left; smoke rose menacingly from the front of the car, the metal twisted around the tree, shattered glass spread across the dirt.
Eric darted to the driver’s side window. Sarah sat limply within, her body hanging in the seatbelt, dark hair hiding her face. He felt a strange flash of relief flare in him when he heard her heartbeat, but the sound was weak, as were her unsteady breaths.
He tried the door, growling when it didn’t budge, the metal too twisted. He dug his fingers into the frame, wrenching it from its hinges before he knelt beside the opening. He grasped her chin, lifting her head and smoothing her hair back to see her face. He patted her cheek lightly, trying to rouse her.
‘Sarah,’ he said, his voice urgent. He tried again, but she didn’t even stir. He looked her over: she was bruised from the impact and littered with cuts from the shattered glass. By the odd angle of her arm, he had no doubt that the airbag had broken bones.
Eric tore at the seatbelt and it parted in his hands. He moved carefully and quickly, trying not to jostle her as he lifted her into his arms, cradling her against his chest before he carried her away from the still smoking car, wondering where he should take her. He didn’t know where she lived, nor was he comfortable taking her to a hospital when so many humans complained about inadequate care. For a moment he considered taking her to Bill and Sookie – it would certainly interrupt their night – but the selfish, curious part of him decided against it. His blood was a much finer vintage.
He sprinted to his home, a mid-sized luxury house just around the corner from Fangtasia. He set her carefully on his bed, ears still trained on her heartbeat as he checked her over. Most of her cuts were superficial, but there were some deeper ones caused by larger shards, marked by the stains seeping into her white shirt.
Eric closed his eyes and finally allowed himself to breathe in the delicious scent, filled with earthy notes and a hint of smoke, his tongue darting out to lick his lips, urging him to taste.
He growled at himself, forcing his eyes open as he shed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He sat beside her. Slashing his wrist with his fangs, he pressed it to her parted lips before the wound could heal.
‘Come on,’ he urged, brushing her hair aside, surprised by how soft the strands were, ‘drink.’
Eric lifted her head, that strange flash of relief flashing through him as he felt her lips move, her heartbeat becoming a little stronger, her tongue darting out to lap at the blood that dripped slowly from the cut.
Sarah’s eyes fluttered but she did not wake even as her hand twitched, the pull of her lips becoming stronger until she reached up and grasped his arm. Sharp nails dug into his skin and he had to stifle a moan, a jolt of heat washing over him as her tongue flicked over his wrist again. He focused on her wounds, watching as they healed, but was forced to pull his wrist away as another wave of heat hit him, stronger than the first, a shudder moving through his body.
Eric slipped off the bed, standing beside her. She seemed to relax, her breathing calmer, her heartbeat strong and steady. Even covered in blood and dishevelled from the crash, she was still beautiful.
He took another breath just to experience another taste of her, that same shudder running through him as the scent of her blood filled him. He sat back on the edge of the bed, unable to resist the draw of the earthy scent. He leant closer, taking one of her hands to bring it to his lips, his tongue darting out, unable to deny himself a taste any longer, though he wished that he could take it from her neck, or maybe one of those gorgeous sun-kissed thighs…
His eyes rolled back at the first taste of her. He curled his tongue around her finger, hunger flaring as he sucked the digit clean. Combined with the exquisite scent of her skin, she was intoxicating.
Eric shot up when she mumbled, hiding in the shadows as her eyes fluttered open. He could see the moment she remembered the crash, her body stiffening as she sat up, her gaze instantly drawn to her hands, eyes wide to find them covered in blood. She glanced around, pushing her hair from her eyes, a startled cry escaping her lips as she discovered that more of the thickening liquid had dripped from her hairline.
‘Hello?’ she called, her voice breaking on the word as her eyes continued to evaluate her surroundings, ‘is there anyone there?’
He could smell her fear, could feel it now that he had given her his blood. Something inside him wanted to help her, to comfort her, but another part was… hungry. He wanted more than just a taste of her sweet blood, more than a glimpse of her sun-kissed skin. He rarely felt urges so strongly, but now they were clawing at him, demanding that he indulge them.
No, he scolded himself. You’re not going to take advantage of her, not after the accident.
But you’ve healed her, the hungry part of him argued, she may be grateful…
Even if she is, she’s not like that, he argued, though he didn’t know why. He didn’t know her, so how was he so sure… right, the blood.
Slowly and idea began to click, little pieces falling into place. He could be charming, could convince her to stay for a little while. Or maybe he could offer her a deal: if she told him what she was, how she had burned him before, he would let her leave.
Eric stepped out of the shadows slowly and her eyes locked onto him, watching his every move carefully as she slid further back on the bed.
‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.
Sarah pulled her knees up, hugging them to her chest. ‘Fine, but I don’t know how. I know I crashed, I know it, and there’s blood all over me, but there are no cuts. There aren’t even little scratches.’
‘I healed you.’
She tensed. ‘You what?’
‘I healed you.’
‘I gave you some of my blood.’
‘You… you pulled me from the car?’
Sarah was genuinely surprised by his kindness. She was almost two miles from Merlotte’s. He would have had to run to reach her, and then to give some of his blood to heal her… Why would someone like Eric Northman care about her?
She tried to smile but it came out half-hearted at best. ‘Thank you, Eric,’ she said, ‘I don’t mean to sound rude, but I… I need to go home.’
The word flew out as though it had a mind of its own, and she looked just as surprised as he felt. He meant to coax her into staying, not act like a barbarian.
‘I have to get home to my brother. He’ll have realised that something is wrong. I should be home by now,’ she said, throwing her legs over the edge of the bed, preparing to stand.
He darted forward, standing in front on her, blocking her exit. ‘You’ve just had an accident. You should rest.’
‘But I feel fine.’
Ah yes, the blood will do that, he thought, switching tactics as he said, ‘well, at the very least, I want some answers first.’
‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘Yes you do,’ he said, leaning close, ‘you can start by telling me how you burnt my wrist.’
‘I don’t know,’ Sarah stuttered, dropping her gaze.
‘How did you burn my wrist?’
She shuffled back, trying to put some space between them. He was too close again, those delectable lips barely inches from hers, the blue of his eyes boring though her. ‘Please, just let me go home.’
‘Tell me what you are.’ He took her hand, turning her palm up. He could see no marks, not hint of the heat that she had used to burn him.
‘I don’t know.’ Her heart was crashing against her ribcage, threatening to break through her chest, the blood coursing through her veins calling out to him. She wrenched her hand from his grasp and pulled her knees up again, wrapping her arms around them. ‘All I know is that I can do things, control fire and water and other elements, but I don’t know how.’
She stared at him for a moment before dropping her gaze. She lifted her hands and he watched as a ball of flame swirled just above her left hand, a ball of water in the other, his eyes widening as they turned to air and earth. They disappeared just as easily as they appeared.
She dropped her hands again, drawing them around herself. ‘Can I go home now?’
He was too close to her, his broad shoulders in reach, that sexy mouth still just inches away. She shook herself mentally, knowing that her thoughts were irrational. She’d just been in an accident. She could have died.
But she felt fine. In fact, she felt better than fine, her whole body coursing with energy, her skin more sensitive, her senses keener.
And her libido was going through the roof.
She had been attracted to Eric at Merlotte’s even when he’d been bearing down on her, boxing her in against her car. Now she craved him, her whole body crying out for his touch, his kiss, a kiss she knew could have her begging for more in seconds. She’d never wanted anyone more, not in her entire life, and he wasn’t even like the men she was usually attracted to. They were all sweet boys with bright eyes and bleached blonde hair, the sort of guys that you would take home to your parents.
Eric was far from that. He could be a thousand years old, for all she knew. He may have healed her, but there was something dangerous about him, something mysterious and sexy in a way she had never known possible.
She shivered at the thought of closing the gap between them but knew that she couldn’t. A man like Eric Northman would never be interested in her, not in a million years, but the temptation was so strong that she could feel it burning through her, arousing her in a way that frightened her. So she kept her eyes lowered, not daring to meet his gaze even as he stepped closer.
Eric’s knees almost buckled as the heady scent of her arousal hit him full force, the smoky note in her scent stronger, overpowering the earth notes. He took another breath just to feel it again, the power of the desire that coiled inside him. He clenched his fists, stepping away from her to pick up his jacket, needing to distance himself from her for fear he would pin her to the bed. He stepped into his closet, reaching for a coat hanger.
He stilled, listening for a moment, a smirk curling his lips. ‘Don’t bother,’ he called from inside the walk-in closet, hearing her pause mid-step, ‘it’s locked.’
He closed his eyes for a moment and heard her try the door anyway, an exasperated noise escaping her lips. He stayed in the darkened room until he heard the springs of the mattress creak, until he could almost listen to a more rational part of himself.
It’s just the effects of my blood, he told himself as he returned to the bedroom, but the hungers inside him still clawed, their sharp points digging in.
Exactly, it said, use her desire…
He knew he should ignore the heat that curled low in his body, but even as he fought, he sat beside her on the bed. ‘Why don’t you have a shower? You can wash the blood off.’
Sarah stared at him, scrutinising his expression. Whatever she found in his gaze, she relented, her right shoulders relaxing. ‘That’s probably a good idea,’ she admitted after a moment, glancing at her hands, ‘my brother will be worried enough about me. If I go home covered in blood, he’ll cancel his trip. I can’t let that happen.’
Eric was surprised by her words, the sincerity and selflessness within them. He’d always thought of humans as selfish, their thoughts focused on themselves, yet she held others higher than her. She had ridden a roller coaster of emotions and fear in such a short time, yet she was clearly more concerned about her brother than herself.
He stood up, offering her his hand, pulling a smile over his lips. He just contained a grin as her heart sped up, the sound tempting as she accepted his hand. He curled his fingers around hers, the warmth of her skin sending another jolt of heat shooting through him as he led her to the bathroom. She stopped in the centre of the room, the white tiles shining in the lights overhead.
‘I’ll get you a towel and some clean clothes,’ he said, stepping towards a small cupboard, smirking as he felt her eyes on his back, her gaze moving south.
Sarah licked her lips, her eyes riveted on that fine arse as he bent to reach into the cupboard, her head tilting to the side. She almost gasped as she realised what she was thinking, surprised by the fantasies that were running through her mind. She wasn’t innocent but she had never craved someone so unattainable.
She snapped back into reality when he appeared in front of her, pushing a fluffy white towel into her hands. He smiled. It was the same flash of perfect white teeth that had ramped her heartbeat up before, and now it was skyrocketing in her chest. He stepped back from her, the smile remaining on his lips, a wicked turn coming into it as he turned around and she realised she must sound like prey to him.
‘I’ll find something for you to wear.’
Sarah breathed a sigh of relief as he closed the door behind himself. She tried to calm her clamouring thoughts as she stripped the bloodied clothes, cringing every time she found another slash in her shirt. If not for the crusted blood on her skin, she’d hardly believe she’d been in an accident.
She turned the taps, the hot water filling the room with steam. The system at her house had never worked properly, even after a number of attempts by Jason to fix it. She revelled in the intensity of the heat and the pressure of the spray and felt some of the tension roll off her shoulders with every drop.
She watched as the water ran red, the blood washing from her body, glad to get it off of her skin. The grungy feeling in her hair was beginning to make her feel self-conscious, not that clean hair had ever stopped that.
She had seen Eric lick his lips more than once, a hunger in his gaze that she put down to the blood on her skin.
He’ll never want you, she reminded herself as she reached for the shampoo.