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His glance flickered over the crowded living room, and I could see him struggling with a smile. You can? You want to?

The fire marshal talked to my insurance company, and they've started the paperwork. In the meantime, Danny and I hauled out the burned table and the chairs, Terry's been working on the floor, and Antoine's been checking that the kitchen's in good shape. I've already made sure we've got more fire extinguishers ready to go. People aren't likely to want to come to Merlotte's if they think they might get incinerated.

I didn't exactly blame folks for worrying about that. We hadn't needed the incident of the night before, not at all. It might hasten the decline of Sam's business.

Claude came downstairs then, giving us Surly. Even slouching around in rumpled jeans, Claude walked with a grace that drew attention to his beauty. Sam gave an unconscious sigh and shook his head slightly as his eyes followed Claude, gliding down the hall as though he had ball bearings in his hip joints.

He doesn't have anything on you. I couldn't, of course, not when I could tell directly from Sam's brain that he was--not exactly envious, but rueful, about Claude's physical attraction, though Sam knew as well as anyone that Claude was a pain in the butt. I've been reading men's minds for years, and they're more like women than you would think, really, unless you're talking trucks. I started to tell Sam that he was plenty attractive, that women in the bar mooned over him more than he thought; but in the end, I kept my mouth shut.

I had to let Sam have the privacy of his own thoughts. Because of his shifter nature, most of what was in Sam's head remained in Sam's head. I could get the odd thought, the general mood, but seldom anything more specific.

I'd forgotten all about the fight the night before. I was abbreviating one of Pam's curses, because I wasn't that horrified. I couldn't help reflecting that it would have been really, really nice if Claude and Dermot had straightened the room up before they turned in the night before. Just as lagniappe.

I set a chair on its legs, and Sam dragged the table back into position. I got the broom and dustpan, and swept up the salt, pepper, and sugar that crunched under my feet, and made a mental note to go to Wal-Mart to replace my toaster if Eric didn't send one today. My napkin holder was broken, too, and it had survived the fire of a year and a half ago. I double-sighed. Well, five good ones. That was plenty. I made some coffee. While Sam was carrying the garbage bag outside, I ducked into my room to get ready.

I'd showered the evening before, so I only needed to brush my hair and my teeth and pull on some jeans and a "Fight Like a Girl" T-shirt. I didn't fool with makeup. Sam had seen me under all sorts of conditions. Dermot was in the kitchen, too. Apparently, he'd made a quick run into town, since he and Sam were sharing some fresh doughnuts.

Judging from the sound of running water, Claude was in the shower. I eyed the bakery box longingly, but I was all too aware that my jeans were feeling tight.

I felt like a martyr as I poured a bowl of Special K and sprinkled Equal on the cereal and added some 2 percent milk. When Sam looked as though he wanted to make a comment, I narrowed my eyes at him. He grinned at me, chewing a mouthful of jelly-filled.

If you need my bathroom. I rinsed my bowl in the sink. I think Eric was right to bring someone to cut it last night. From Sam's expression, he wasn't joking one little bit. We're strictly family. I'd been sure that was just my human hang-up. Due to Sam's words, now I was second-guessing myself like crazy, wondering if I'd picked up on a vibe.

After all, Claude did like to run around nude, and he'd told me he'd actually had sex with a female before. I figured there'd been another man involved, frankly. Dermot and Claude, having decided to live apart from their fairy kin though I wasn't sure how voluntary those decisions had been , remained closemouthed about fairy beliefs and customs. Aside from making derogatory comments from time to time about trolls and sprites, they didn't talk about their race at all.

We have records of our history and what we've observed about other supes. Keeping track has helped us survive. There's always been a place we could go on each continent to read and study about the other races. Now it's all electronic. I'm sworn not to show it to anyone. If I could, I'd let you read it all. I didn't want to press him. I could tell that Sam had already stretched those limits for me. We were each preoccupied with our own thoughts for the rest of the drive. While Eric was dead for the day, I felt alone in my skin, and usually I enjoyed that feeling.

It wasn't that being bonded to Eric made me feel I was possessed, or anything like that. It was more like during the dark hours, I could feel his life continuing parallel to mine--I knew he was working or arguing or content or absorbed in what he was doing. A little trickle of awareness, rather than a book of knowledge.

Of course, I'd be out of business for a while, and I'm sure the other bars in the area would take up the slack, but I can't see that as an incentive. Much of an incentive," he corrected himself.

Not like Vic's Redneck Roadhouse," he added, a little bitterly. That was true. Not you as a shapeshifter, but you as a person. Sam was startled by the idea. It's not like I could coerce her into going out with me. I had a hard time repressing a snort of laughter. He shrugged. Pretty soon we were pulling up to the antiques shop, which was located in a former paint store in a down-sliding older business street in Shreveport.

The big front windows were sparkling clean, and the pieces that had been positioned there were beautiful. The largest was what my grandmother had called a hunt sideboard.

It was heavy and ornate and just about as tall as my chest. The other window featured a collection of jardini? The one in the center, positioned to show that it was the cream of the crop, was sea green and blue and had cherubs stuck on it. I thought it was hideous, but it definitely had style. Sam and I looked at the display for a moment in thoughtful silence before we went in. A bell--a real bell, not an electronic chime--jangled as we pushed open the door.

A woman sitting on a stool behind a counter to the right looked up. She pushed her glasses up on her nose. Merlotte," she said, smiling with just the right intensity. I remember you, I'm glad you came back, but I'm not personally interested in you as a man. She was good. Hesterman," Sam said. Hesterman said. What can I do for you today? I don't want to put it all back. Might be some things you'd be interested in, though. She's so modern, who would have thought she'd be interested in antiques?

She's such a little cutie! Sam poked me in the ribs when Brenda turned her back to fetch a ring of small keys. He made a significant face, and I smoothed out my expression and batted my eyelashes at him. He looked away, but not before I caught a reluctant grin.


Dead Reckoning



Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse #11)(5) by Charlaine Harris


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