Chapter 1


I love spring for all the obvious reasons. I love the flowers blooming (which happens early here in Louisiana); I love the birds twittering; I love the squirrels scampering across my yard.

I love the sound of werewolves howling in the distance.

No, just kidding. But the late, lamented Tray Dawson had once told me that spring is the favorite season of werewolves. There's more prey, so the hunt is over quickly, leaving more time to eat and play. Since I'd been thinking about Weres, it wasn't such a surprise to hear from one.

On that sunny morning in the middle of April, I was sitting on my front porch with my second cup of coffee and a magazine, still wearing my sleep pants and my Superwoman T-shirt, when the Shreveport packleader called me on my cell phone.

"Huh," I said, when I recognized the number. I flipped the phone open. "Hello," I said cautiously.

"Sookie," said Alcide Herveaux. I hadn't seen Alcide in months. Alcide had ascended to the position of packleader the year before in a single evening of mayhem. "How are you?"

"Right as rain," I said, nearly meaning it. "Happy as a clam. Fit as a fiddle." I watched a rabbit hop across the clover and grass twenty feet away. Spring.

"You're still dating Eric? He the reason for the good mood?"

Everyone wanted to know. "I'm still dating Eric. That sure helps keep me happy." Actually, as Eric kept telling me, "dating" was a misleading term. Though I didn't think of myself as married since I'd simply handed him a ceremonial knife (Eric had used my ignorance as part of his master strategy), the vampires did. A vampire-human marriage isn't exactly like a "love, honor, and obey" human pairing, but Eric had expected the marriage would earn me some perks in the vampire world. Since then, things had gone pretty well, vampire-wise. Aside from the huge glitch of Victor not letting Eric come to my aid when I was dying, that is - Victor, who really needed to die.

I turned my thoughts away from this dark direction with the determination of long practice. See? That was better. Now I was hopping out of bed every day with (almost) my old vigor. I'd even gone to church the past Sunday. Positive! "What's happening, Alcide?" I asked.

"I got a favor to ask," Alcide said, not entirely to my surprise.

"What can I do for you?"

"Can we use your land for our full-moon run tomorrow night?"

I made myself pause to think about his request rather than automatically saying yes. I'm learning through experience. I had the open land the Weres needed; that wasn't the issue. I still own twenty-odd acres around my house, though my grandmother had sold off most of the original farm when she was faced with the financial burden of raising my brother and me. Though Sweet Home Cemetery took a chunk out of the land between my place and Bill's, there'd be enough room - especially if Bill didn't mind allowing access to his land as well. I remembered the pack had been here once before.

I turned the idea around to look at it from all angles. I couldn't see any obvious downside. "You're welcome to come," I said. "I think you should check with Bill Compton, too." Bill hadn't responded to any of my little gestures of concern.

Vampires and werewolves are not inclined to be buddies, but Alcide is a practical man. "I'll call Bill tonight, then," he said. "You got his number?"

I gave it to him. "Why are you-all not going to your place, Alcide?" I asked, out of sheer curiosity. He'd told me in casual conversation that the Long Tooth pack celebrated the full moon at the Herveaux farm south of Shreveport. Most of the Herveaux land was left in timber for the pack hunts.

"Ham called today to tell me there's a small party of oneys camping by the stream." "Oneys," the one-natured, is what the two-natured Weres call regular humans. I knew Hamilton Bond by sight. His farm was adjacent to the Herveaux place, and Ham farmed a few acres for Alcide. The Bond family had belonged to the Long Tooth pack as long as the Herveauxes.

"Did they have your permission to camp there?" I asked.

"They told Ham my dad always gave them permission to fish there in the spring, so they didn't think to ask me. It might be true. I don't remember them, though."

"Even if they're telling the truth, that's pretty rude. They should have called you," I said. "They should have asked you if it was convenient for you. You want me to talk to them? I can find out if they're lying." Jackson Herveaux, Alcide's late dad, hadn't seemed like the kind of man who'd casually allow people to use his land on a regular basis.

"No thanks, Sookie. I hate to ask you for another favor. You're a friend of the pack. We're supposed to watch out for you, not you for us."

"Don't worry about it. Y'all can come out here. And if you want me to shake hands with these supposed buddies of your dad's, I can do that." I was curious about their appearance on the Herveaux farm so close to the full moon. Curious and suspicious.

Alcide told me he'd think about the fishermen situation, and thanked me about six times for saying yes.

"No big deal," I said, and hoped I was telling the truth. Eventually, Alcide felt he'd thanked me enough, and we hung up.

I went inside with my coffee cup. I didn't know I was smiling until I looked in the living room mirror. I admitted to myself I was looking forward to the wolves' arrival. It would be pleasant to feel I wasn't alone in the middle of the woods. Pathetic, huh?

Though our few evenings together were good, Eric was still spending a lot of time on vampire business. I was getting a little tired of it. Well, not a little. If you're the boss, you should be able to get some time off, right? That's one of the perks of being a boss.

But something was up with the vampires; I was unhappily familiar with the signs. By now, the new regime should have been firmly in place, and Eric should have thoroughly established his new role in the scheme of things. Victor Madden should have been fully occupied down in New Orleans with the running of the kingdom, since he was Felipe's representative in Louisiana. Eric should have been left to run Area Five in his own efficient way.

But Eric's blue eyes got all glittery and steely when Victor's name came up. Mine probably did, too. As things stood now, Victor had power over Eric, and there wasn't much we could do about that.

I'd asked Eric if he thought Victor might claim dissatisfaction with Eric's performance in Area Five, a terrifying possibility.

"I'm keeping paperwork to prove differently," Eric said. "And I'm keeping it in several places." The lives of all Eric's people, and maybe my life, depended on Eric planting his feet firmly in the new regime. I knew so much rested on Eric's making his position impregnable, and I knew I shouldn't whine. It's not always easy to make yourself feel the way you ought to feel.

All in all, some howling around the house would be a nice change. At least it would be something new and different.

When I went to work that day, I told Sam about Alcide's phone call. True shapeshifters are rare. Since there aren't any others in this area, Sam occasionally spends time with others who have two forms. "Hey, why don't you come out to the house, too?" I suggested. "You could turn into a wolf, right, since you're a pure shifter? And then you'd blend right in."

Sam leaned back in his old swivel chair, glad to have an excuse to stop filling in forms. Sam, who is thirty, is three years older than me.

"I've been dating someone in the pack, so it might be fun," he said, considering the idea. But he shook his head after a moment. "That would be like going to an NAACP meeting in blackface. Being an imitation in front of the real thing. That's why I've never gone out with the panthers, though Calvin's told me I'd be welcome."

"Oh," I said, feeling embarrassed. "I didn't think of that. I'm sorry." I did wonder who he was dating, but there again, not my business.

"Ah, don't worry about it."

"I've known you for years, and I should know more about you," I said. "Your culture, that is."

"My own family is still learning. You know more than they do."

Sam had come out when the Weres had. His mother had come out the same night. His family had had a rough time handling the revelation. In fact, Sam's stepfather had shot Sam's mother, and now they were getting divorced - no big surprise there.

"Is your brother's wedding back on?" I said.

"Craig and Deidra are going to counseling. Her parents were pretty upset that she was marrying into a family with people like me and Mom in it. They don't understand that any kids Craig and Deidra have simply can't turn into animals. It's only the firstborn of a pure shifter couple." He shrugged. "I think they'll pull through, though. I'm just waiting for them to set a new date. You still willing to go with me?"

"Sure," I said, though I had an uneasy twitch when I pictured myself telling Eric I was going out of state with another man. At the time I'd promised Sam I'd go, the situation between Eric and me hadn't gelled into a relationship. "You're assuming taking a Were as your date would be offensive to Deidra's family?"

"Truth be told," Sam said, "the Great Reveal in Wright didn't go over as well for the two-natured as it did in Bon Temps."

I knew from the local news that Bon Temps had been lucky. Its citizens had simply blinked when the Weres and the other two-natured announced their existence, taking a page from the vampire book. "Just let me know what happens," I said. "And come out to my place tomorrow if you change your mind about having a run with the pack."

"Packmaster didn't invite me," Sam said, smiling.

"Landowner did."

We didn't talk about it any more the rest of my shift, so I figured Sam would find something else to do for his moon time. The monthly change actually runs for three nights - three nights when all the two-natured, if they can, take to the woods (or the streets) in their animal form. Most of the twoeys - those born with their condition - can change at other times, but the moon time ... that's special to all of them, including those who'd come to their extra nature by being bitten. There's a drug you can take, I hear, that can suppress your change; Weres in the military, among others, have to use it. But they all hate to do that, and I understand they're really no fun to be around on those nights.

Fortunately for me, the next day was one of my days off that week. If I'd had to come home from the bar late at night, the short distance from the car into the house might have been a little nerve-racking with the wolves on the loose. I'm not sure how much of their human consciousness remains when the Weres change, and not all of Alcide's pack members are personal friends of mine. Since I'd be at home, the prospect of hosting the Weres was more or less carefree. When company's coming to hunt in your woods, there's no preparation to be done. You don't have to cook or clean house.

However, having outside company was good motivation to complete some yard chores. Since it was another beautiful day, I put on one of my bikinis, pulled on sneakers and gloves, and set to work. Sticks and leaves and pinecones all went in the burn barrel, along with some hedge clippings. I made sure all the yard tools were put away in the shed, which I locked. I wound up the hose I'd used to water the potted plants I'd arranged around the back steps. I checked the clamp on the lid on the big garbage can. I'd bought the can specifically to keep the raccoons out of the trash, but a wolf might get interested, too.

I passed a pleasant afternoon, puttering around in the sun, singing off-key whenever the spirit moved me.

Right at dusk, the cars started arriving. I went to the window. I noticed the Weres had been considerate enough to carpool; there were several people in each vehicle. Even so, my driveway would be blocked until morning. Lucky I planned to stay at home, I thought. I knew some of the pack members, and I recognized a few of the others by sight. Hamilton Bond, who'd grown up with Alcide, pulled up and sat in his truck, talking on his cell phone. My eyes were drawn to a skinny, vivid young woman who favored flashy fashions, the kind I thought of as MTV clothes. I'd first noticed her in the Hair of the Dog bar in Shreveport, and she'd been assigned the task of executing injured enemies after Alcide's pack had won the Were war; I thought her name was Jannalynn. I also recognized two women who'd been members of the attacking pack; they'd surrendered at the end of the fight. Now they'd joined their former enemies. A young man had surrendered, too, but he could have been any one of a dozen moving restlessly around my yard.

Finally, Alcide arrived in his familiar truck. There were two other people sitting in the cab.

Alcide himself is tall and husky, as Weres tend to be. He's an attractive man. He's got black hair and green eyes, and of course, he's very strong. Alcide is usually well mannered and considerate - but he has his tough side, for sure. I'd heard rumors through Sam and Jason that since he'd ascended to packleader, that tough side had been getting a workout. I noticed that Jannalynn made a special effort to be at the truck door when Alcide emerged.

The woman who slid out after him was in her late twenties, and she had some good solid hips on her. She wore her brown hair slicked back into a little knob, and her camo tank top let me know she was muscular and fit. At the moment, Camo was looking around the front yard like she was the tax assessor. The man who got out the other door was a little older and a lot harder.

Sometimes, even if you're not telepathic, you can tell by looking at a man that he's had a rough life. This man had. The way he moved told me he was on the alert for trouble. Interesting.

I watched him, because he needed watching. He had shoulder-length dark brown hair that flared around his head in a cloud of cork-screws. I found myself eyeing it enviously. I'd always wished I could get my hair to do that.

After I'd gotten over my hair envy, I noticed that his skin was the brown of mocha ice cream. Though he wasn't as tall as Alcide, he had thick shoulders on an aggressively muscled body.

If I'd had a "Bad to the Bone" alert on the brick path up to the front porch, it would have gone off just after Corkscrew set his foot on it. "Danger, Will Robinson," I said out loud. I'd never seen Camo or Corkscrew before. Hamilton Bond got out of his truck and came over to join the little group, but he didn't come up the porch steps to stand beside Alcide, Corkscrew, and Camo. Ham held back. Jannalynn joined him. The Long Tooth pack appeared to be both expanding its ranks and rearranging its pecking order.

When I answered the knock on the door, I had my hostess smile in place. The bikini would have been sending the wrong message (Yum, yum, available!), so I'd pulled on some cutoff jeans and a Fangtasia T-shirt. I pushed open the screen door. "Alcide!" I said, truly glad to see him. We gave each other a brief hug. He felt awfully warm, since all my recent hugging experiences had been with the less-than-room-temperature Eric. I felt a sort of emotional ripple and realized that though Camo was smiling at me, our embrace hadn't been a welcome sight to her. "Hamilton!" I said. I nodded at him since he wasn't within hugging distance.

"Sookie," Alcide said, "some new members for you to meet. This is Annabelle Bannister."

I'd never met anyone who looked less like an "Annabelle" than this woman. I shook hands with her, of course, and told her I was pleased to meet her.

"You know Ham, and you've met Jannalynn, too, I think?" Alcide said, inclining his head back.

I nodded at the two at the foot of the steps.

"And this is Basim al Saud, my new second," Alcide said. It was pronounced "bah-SEEM," and Alcide trotted the name out like he introduced Arabic people to me all the time. Okeydokey. "Hi-dee-do, Basim," I said. I held out my hand. One of the meanings of "second," I knew, was the person who scares the shit out of everyone, and Basim seemed well qualified for the job. Somewhat reluctantly, he extended his own hand to mine. I shook it, wondering what I'd get from him. Weres are often very hard to read because of their dual nature. Sure enough, I didn't get specific thoughts: only a confused blur of mistrust and aggression and lust.

Funny, that was pretty much what I was getting from the misnamed Annabelle. "How long have you been in Shreveport?" I asked politely. I glanced from Annabelle to Basim to include them both in the question.

"Six months," Annabelle said. "I transferred from the Elk Killer pack in South Dakota." So she was in the Air Force. She'd been stationed in South Dakota and then reassigned to Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, adjacent to Shreveport.

"I've been here two months," Basim said. "I'm learning to like it." Though he looked exotic, he had only the faintest trace of an accent, and his English was much more precise than mine. Going strictly by the haircut, he was definitely not in the armed services.

"Basim left his old pack in Houston," Alcide said easily, "and we're glad he's become one of us." "We" didn't include Ham Bond. I might not be able to read Ham's mind as clearly as if he were human, but he was no big Basim fan. Neither was Jannalynn, who seemed to regard Basim with both lust and resentment. There was lots of lust going around the pack this evening. Looking at Basim and Alcide, that wasn't too hard to understand.

"You have a good time here tonight, Basim, Annabelle," I said, before turning to Alcide. "Alcide, my property extends maybe an acre beyond the stream to the east, about five acres south to the dirt track that leads to the oil well, and north around the back of the cemetery."

The packleader nodded. "I called Bill last night, and he's okay with us spilling over into his woods. He's not going to be at home until dawn, so we won't be bothering him. What about you, Sookie? Are you going into Shreveport tonight, or staying home?"

"I'll be here. If you need me for anything, just come to the door." I smiled at all of them.

Annabelle thought, Not effing likely, Blondie.

"But you might need the phone," I said to her, and she jumped. "Or some first aid. After all, Annabelle, you never know what you're going to meet up with." Though I'd started out smiling, there was no smile on my face by the time I finished.

People should make an effort to be polite.

"Thanks again for the use of your land. We'll be heading into the woods," Alcide said quickly. The dark was falling steadily, and I could see the other Weres drifting into the cover of the trees. One of the women threw back her head and yipped. Basim's eyes were rounder and more golden already.

"Have a good night," I said, as I stepped back and latched the screen door. The three Weres started down the front steps. Alcide's voice drifted back. He was saying, "I told you she was telepathic," to Annabelle as they went across the driveway into the woods, trailed by Ham. Jannalynn suddenly started running for the tree line, she was so anxious to change. But it was Basim who glanced back at me as I pushed the wooden door shut. It was the kind of look you get from the animals in the zoo.

And then it was full dark.

The Weres were a bit of a disappointment. They didn't make as much noise as I'd thought they would. I stayed in the house, of course, all locked up, and I pulled my curtains closed, which wasn't my normal habit. After all, I lived in the middle of the woods. I watched a little television, and I read some. Somewhat later, while I was brushing my teeth, I heard howling. I thought it came from far off, probably near the eastern edge of my property.

Early the next morning, just as dawn was breaking, I woke up because I heard car engines. The Weres were taking their departure. I almost turned over to go back to sleep, but I realized I had to get up and pay a trip to the bathroom. After I took care of that, I was a little more awake. I padded down the hall to the living room and peeked through a gap in the front curtains. Out of the tree line came Ham Bond, a bit worse for wear. He was talking to Alcide. Their trucks were the only remaining vehicles. Annabelle appeared a moment after.

As I looked at the early morning light falling across the dewy grass, the three Weres walked across the lawn slowly, clothed as they had been the night before, but carrying their shoes. They looked exhausted but happy. Their clothes weren't bloody, but their faces and arms were speckled. They'd had a successful hunt. I had a Bambi twinge, but I suppressed it. This was little different from going up in a blind with a rifle.

A few seconds later Basim emerged from the woods. In the slanted light, he looked like a woodland creature, his wild hair full of bits of leaf and twig. There was something ancient about Basim al Saud. I had to wonder how he'd become a werewolf in wolfless Arabia. As I watched, Basim turned away from the other three and came to my front porch. He knocked, low and firm.

I counted to ten and opened the door. I tried not to stare at the blood. You could tell he'd washed his face in the stream, but he'd missed his neck.

"Miss Stackhouse, good morning," Basim said courteously. "Alcide says I should tell you that other creatures have been passing through your property."

I could feel the pucker between my eyes as I frowned. "What kind, Basim?"

"At least one was a fairy," he said. "Possibly more than one fairy, but one for sure."

That was incredible for about six reasons. "Are these tracks ... or traces ... fresh? Or a few weeks old?"

"Very fresh," he said. "And the scent of vampire is strong, too. That's a bad mixture."

"That's unpleasant news, but something I needed to know. Thanks for telling me."

"And there's a body."

I stared at him, willing my face to stillness. I have a lot of practice at not showing what I'm thinking; any telepath has to be good at that. "How old a body?" I asked, when I was sure I had my voice under control.

"Around a year and a half, maybe a little less." Basim wasn't making a big deal about finding a body. He was strictly letting me know it was there. "It's quite far back, buried very deeply."

I didn't say anything. Geez Louise, must be Debbie Pelt. Since Eric had recovered his memory of that night, that's one thing I'd never asked him: where he'd buried her body after I'd killed her.

Basim's dark eyes examined me with great attention. "Alcide wants you to call if you need help or advice," he said finally.

"Tell Alcide I appreciate the offer. And thanks again for letting me know."

He nodded, and then he was halfway back to the truck, where Annabelle sat with her head resting on Alcide's shoulder.

I raised my hand to them as Alcide started the truck, and I shut my door firmly as they left.

I had a lot to think about.

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