Chapter 1

My eyes popped open at the harsh cry of a bluejay. If they weren’t such a nice blue, I’d have Jason take care of them for me. Despite the morning light pouring in through my window, it felt like danger was lurking just outside.

I had been dreaming again and again of seeing Sam slashed straight through with the sword, time standing still, and the cluviel dor making my one wish come true. Each time, I felt my relief, but someone else’s anger. It was Eric’s. Like the blood bond was back, I could feel the undercurrent of his emotion. It was fierce, strong, and unforgiving.

The dream wasn’t it though. When I reached out with my mind, I felt two brains, both with the fuzzy signature of a were. Fuck a zombie. I did not have the energy for this.

One sleeping nearby: Sam. Thank goodness. He was alive and well. Well enough. We’d just have to see how he was doing. But the other was out on the porch. I listened for a bit more. It didn’t feel like trouble was brewing from there. My visitor wouldn’t have made it to the porch if they intended any harm to me, if Amelia’s charms were still working.

After last night about the last thing I wanted was a morning visitor. Gran would have been ashamed of my sour attitude, but maybe she would have given me some room under the circumstances. I very quietly I scooted to the edge of the bed, slipped on my sneakers, and tipped toed through the kitchen. I went straight out the backdoor, grabbing the Benelli from behind the water heater for good measure.

I could just hear Gran’s voice. An ounce of prevention…I had to shake my head though. I was pretty sure she would not consider arming yourself to greet a guest as appropriate, especially for a southern woman.

I was worried about Sam, but figured my guest wasn’t here for trouble since whoever it was had clearly settled in until we emerged. Well, they could just wait it out. Besides, if it started to get real, Sam could just turn into a lion or something.

Waiting for Sam to wake up and talk with him was out of the question. I wasn’t ready for that either. That talk was going to require some careful footwork. I had a lot of explaining to do and I valued Sam too much to get it wrong.

Whoever it was on the porch must have parked out front since it was just Sam’s truck in the back. As quietly as I could, I snuck around the side of Sam’s truck and used it to block my entrance to the woods. I made it to the edge of the woods without incident and worked hard to be quiet as I made my way into the brush. I got a few feet in and circled back a bit to get a view of the porch, regretting the snap of each branch and crush of each leaf. I smiled as I considered trading in my telepathy for some of the grace of the Weres.

Alcide was sitting on the front porch looking far too comfortable, hands curled around a travel mug of coffee. Well, that really pissed me off. His little drop-in was costing me my morning cup. After last night, an apology from him was definitely in order. Every time he’s pulled me into pack business I’m up to my ass in alligators before you can say “y’all”. Between watching Sam nearly be slaughtered and saving him, only to witness a very naked Mustapha behead Jannalynn, I was in a fine kettle of fish emotionally. Not to mention the trouble I was clearly in with Eric. No. Alcide could wait all day. Or longer. Much, much longer.

I had stewed on that too long. Just as I turned to go, Alcide must have caught my scent on the breeze because he quickly turned in my direction and called my name.

“Not now, Alcide. Not now.” I could hear the pleading in my voice, but moved away with a resolution that was clear.

“Sookie, we got to talk. You knew there would be consequences for Jannalynn at the pack meeting. I’ve got to talk to you and Sam.”

I whirled on my heel and pulled the rifle level. “Alcide, I mean it. I am in no mood for your shit this morning. I don’t mean to be rude, but I need you to leave me be. This thing with Jannalynn is Sam’s business, not mine. When he’s ready, Sam’ll call you. Until then, just scoot on back to Shreveport.”

“See reason, Sookie. As pack master, I..”

Out of my head with exhaustion, anger, and plain stubbornness, I lowered the gun a tad and fired a shot at the ground. Not too close, but it made him leap back a bit. His thoughts went from green to red. Guess I was still seeing colors around him from my night as a shaman in the pack. That just made me more mad. My voice was trembling with anger and I could feel the adrenaline coursing again.

“Reason nothin’. I mean it, Alcide.”

I turned on my heel and headed off in a huff, listening for him to follow after me. After getting a little deeper in the woods, I heard Alcide’s truck start up and tires kick up gravel on my drive way. That just got me more rankled.

I’d ask him to send out one of his crew’s to fix up the gravel once I was ready to make amends. I couldn’t afford to fix it myself every time someone left my house in a huff.

I stopped trying to be quiet and made quite a production of stomping off further into the woods, heading in the direction of the cemetery. If there was anyone I needed to talk to it was Gran. At the thought of Gran, I was immediately embarrassed that I’d taken a pot shot at Alcide. At least I hadn’t shot him. On second thought, if I’d have grazed him, it would have served him right. Some nerve showing up on my porch in the morning.

At least, it wasn’t my bed again…and he did have the decency not to wake me. I’d give him a call and maybe make him a casserole or jello salad or something. Lime jello with the carrots made in a bundt cake mold. I’d have to pick up a pack at the Piggly Wiggly.

At that thought, I started to giggle. Thank goodness I was alone in the woods. It wouldn’t do to be seen wearing my pajamas, carrying a shotgun, and laughing my head off on the way to the cemetery. Bud Dearborn, the Bon Temps sheriff, would call the loony bin in Clarice for sure.

As I got closer to Sweet Home Cemetery, I stashed the Benelli in a crook in a tree at the edge of the woods, covering it up with some branches from a nearby bush. Good enough.

I loved Sweet Home. As I stepped past the first set of tombstones I had a flood of memories of my childhood. Jason and I playing hide and seek among the graves, coming to visit my Grandpa Mitchel (who wasn’t really my grandfather due to a big moral lapse on Gran’s part with a fairy prince). Without thinking about it, I had made my way to Gran’s grave.

As I traced my fingers over the engraving of her name, it brought tears to my eyes to know that I would never hear her voice again. Especially now, I felt that I needed answers I would never get the path she’d chosen. Out of energy from my outburst and march through the woods, I just plopped down on the grave and started talking to her. It wasn’t quite a prayer, not quite a conversation. I was pouring my heart out, tears that I hadn’t allowed myself came unbidden, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. For a time, I just couldn’t get out enough tears or in enough air. Then I was just all cried out and curled up leaning against the warmth of her tombstone.

When I got to my feet, I felt better. I had dropped some of my burdens and gotten some clarity (Thank you, Oprah!) on what battles were mine to fight and what I should just let come to pass.

When I turned to go, sitting at the edge of the woods was Sam. My heart swelled.


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