“You know what a husband’s worst fear is?” Bill hushed. “It’s not finding his wife in bed with another man. It’s lying in bed with his wife knowing she’s thinking of another man.”
Sookie Stackhouse was raised to be a good girl. Kept strictly on the straight and narrow.
To never lie.
To always love thy neighbor.
To never do anything to intentionally hurt anyone.
To be respectful to her elders.
And to never ever cheat.
Good things happen to good people, her grandmother used to tell her. She lived by that mantra… most of the time.
She stood by the door – a hand clutching her throbbing shoulder – while watching her husband grip the back of his skull rocking back and forth at the edge of the bed.
All along she thought she was doing the right thing by staying with him when all she was doing was delaying the inevitable.
Her shoulder ached, where his nails pricked her skin. She gave it a light squeeze soothingly. She was sure she would have a nasty bruise later. It wouldn’t be the first time. And she was certain it would not be the last.
She couldn’t remember the first time he had lost his temper with her. It wasn’t his fault, she would tell herself. She had driven him to madness. She deserved his anger because she was in love with another man. One time Bill grabbed her and shook her so hard her teeth chattered. He didn’t mean it, she’d say over and over every time she would have to hide her bruises from Hadley or her officemates. He just didn’t know his strength. He wouldn’t hurt her on purpose.
Now she wasn’t so sure.
Bill sobbed audibly. It was discomfiting to see a full grown man get reduced into a sniveling mess. She had seen Eric weep before. But he never bawled like Bill. Eric would simply cover his eyes and clench his teeth. He would brush the tears off his face before she could pat his back and say ‘there, there’. It wasn’t out of sheer machismo. Eric just didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. He was thoughtful like that.
She was doing it again, comparing the man she had to the man she couldn’t have.
She forced her attention back to Bill. She should go to his side and try to appease him – whisper lies and hollow promises. Tell him that she loved him, loves him still and that Eric was a thing of the past. That’s what a good girl should do.
But some lies were just too hard to utter. Because the worst lies in life were the ones she kept telling herself.
So she kept her distance and watched her husband break down, because Sookie Stackhouse wasn’t a good girl. Not today, not for a long time.
Four days ago…
“Hi Sarah,” Sookie forced herself to chirp, waving her hand timidly at her next-door neighbor.
Sarah Newlin, a big-haired blonde in a frilly pink dress, grinned toothily, stretching both arms to Sookie to give her a hug. Sarah, with her overly whitened teeth and outdated hairstyle, was everything Sookie wasn’t: a typical suburban housewife.
“Sookie! You’re back!” Sarah exclaimed, enveloping Sookie in her arms. Sookie winced; she wasn’t a huge fan of hugs. Especially from someone she had only known for a month. Sadly, Sarah, apparently, was. Fortunately Sarah let go before Sookie could groan in protest. “How was your trip? Oh what am I saying of course it’s depressing! How’s your husband? Willy, is it?”
Sarah kept prattling on about funerals and how she and her husband, Steve, weren’t really fond of that specific occasion. No one is, Sarah, Sookie thought acidly. Well, probably a mortician.
Sookie nodded politely instead. Love thy neighbors, her grandmother would always say.
“I just dropped by to thank you for looking after the house while we were away. And for picking up my mail. My sister said you have them?” Truth was, she never asked Sarah to do that. She wanted Pam to do it for her. But it seemed Sarah had taken it upon herself to check her mailbox before Pam could drive by. Pam was tempted to put the obnoxious Sarah in her place but her energy reservoir was allotted to an actual infant and not a thirty-something child who had no sense of boundary. Plus it also helped that Sarah had relieved Pam of the garden duties by tending to Sookie’s beloved front lawn. To say that Pam didn’t fancy the art of horticulture would be an understatement.
“Oh yeah, yeah. I have them. I told your sister she doesn’t have to drop by every day to fetch your mail when I can do it for you. That’s what neighbors are for, am I right?” She punctuated her sentence with an exaggerated wink and a giggle before she waved for Sookie to come in while she gathered Sookie’s mail, which consisted of magazine subscriptions and bills.
“Here ya go, sweetie,” Sarah said as she rushed back to the living room where she left Sookie to assess the Newlin’s interior design which, to say the least, was as over-the-top as Sarah’s personality.
“Thanks,” Sookie replied, already making her way to the door. “Oh and this is for you.” She fished out a white envelope from her jeans pocket.
“What’s this?” Sarah asked as she greedily peeked inside to find a dining voucher for two. “Canlis?! Oh lordy! Steve and I have been dying to go there but it’s always booked months in advance! Oh Sookie this is too much!”
Sookie smiled while taking half a step back in case Sarah decided to hug her again. “Pam got it for me. She’s friends with the owner; but you still have to call two days ahead to reserve a table. It’s the least I can do for taking such good care of my garden.”
Sarah froze and so was her smile. “Your garden?” she asked, looking baffled. “Oh it wasn’t me, sweetie. Heavens, these nails are not made for manual labor. It was Edward, the guy living across the street.”
“Y’know, Edward, the brooding vampire in Twilight? Not that I’ve read any of the books or seen any of the movies,” she quipped a little too defensively, making her blush a deep red. “Steve and I call him Edward because he’s like a vampire; he only gets out at night. He leaves at eight and comes home at two. I know because he mows your lawn at three. Steve and I are very light sleepers, you see.”
Sarah started blathering again. How she and her husband were at first annoyed at Edward’s unusual routine and choice of clothing but decided to let him do his ‘thang’. Apparently her vampire gardener only wore black tank top when tending to her garden at ungodly hours of the morning. “It’s eight degrees outside and he’s wearing tanks like it’s nobody’s business…” Sarah prattled away.
“Thanks, Sarah. But I have to go,” Sookie cut her off in the middle of her nonsensical spew.
“Oh. Okay,” Sarah trailed off. “Can I keep the voucher?”
“Yeah, keep it!” Sookie couldn’t get out of the Newlin’s house fast enough. It was 7:45 p.m., if the Newlin’s not-really-spying spying was accurate, she only had fifteen minutes before her vampire would leave his lair.
Her palms were sweating when she reached his porch. She wiped them dry against her jeans as she took calming breaths to, well, calm herself before she began rapping against the black wainscot door.
Six, ten more knocks before she heard creaking on the floor.
“Eric,” she called out in a low whisper, “I know it’s you who’ve been mowing my lawn.”
A pause and a breath later…
“Do you really think I’d let anyone else mow your lawn?” came the deep, sultry voice lilting with mischief she knew too damn well.
She tucked her lip under her teeth to keep from smiling. If only there was something she could do to stop from blushing.
“So. Are you gonna let me in? Or do I have to break this door down?”
She heard a deep chuckle and a loud tsk. “Are you always this violent?”
“Part of my charm.”
Another chortle. “And they all think you’re such a darling?”
“I am a darling,” she purred teasingly. “C’mon Eric. I’m startin’ to look like an idiot talking to a door.”
A heartbeat passed then a soft thud, as though he pressed his weight against the door. She cursed the obstruction at once, willing it to vanish.
“I can’t let you in,” he husked, making her heart sink to the ground.
“Why not?” she huffed, crossing her arms against her chest.
“Don’t look now, but there’s a blue sedan two houses from here. I’ve been seeing that same car since you got back. I followed it yesterday and confirmed my suspicion. You’re being followed. He doesn’t know I live here or he would have tracked me too. I still don’t know who that scumbag is or who he works for and until I do I can’t risk blowing my cover. I’ve had Alcide run the plate. I expect to hear from him soon.”
She suppressed a gasp as her shoulders drooped. The revelation should never have surprised her. Yet it still did. The animosity in his tone was thick even through the barricade. Knowing Eric, it must be torturing him to be this helpless.
She sighed audibly before she tapped at the door again. It was solely for their audience’s benefit. To make a grand show that she was still waiting for someone to open the door.
“I guess I’ll see you around,” she mumbled lowly, turning slightly away from the direction of the car.
“I always have my eyes on you Stackhouse.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “I must be really sick for not finding that even a little disturbing.”
“You say it like it’s news.”
He was right. When Eric was concerned rationality was nonexistent.
Love thy neighbor, they said. That she could do without question.
“How long have you known?”
Bill jerked his head up. “What?!” he snarled.
“How long have you known?” she spat each word with venom.
He stood up shakily, his lips in a tight grimace. “So you’re not even going to deny that you’re having an affair with your brother?”
“He’s not my brother,” she gritted.
“And that makes it right?!” he exploded. “You’re my wife! You’re mine!”
She shook her head. “Don’t delude yourself. I was never yours.”
He was in front of her in a flash, his hand in the air over his head, ready to land on her cheek.
She nudged her chin up and stared him straight in the eyes. “Do it!” she egged him on.
His shoulder twitched as his hand froze. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? So you can run to your lover and cry.”
“No,” she whispered, inching closer. “So I can beat the crap out of you and call it self-defense.”
His eyes narrowed, his hand falling limp to his side. “You’re a heartless bitch!”
“I have a heart, Bill. It just isn’t beating for you.” She wasn’t pulling any punches. He wanted a bitch, he’d get one. She wasn’t done yet. She had yet to deliver her final blow. “I want a divorce.”
He blanched as his eyes rounded. And for a second she thought he would pass out. He eyed her incredulously as though he was expecting for some kind of a punch line or even a retraction.
He crossed his arms over his wrinkled shirt, stepping back from her before he replied with a stern, “No.”
“It isn’t a request.”
“You’re not leaving me,” he countered with vehemence. “I’ve given up everything for you. My job, my life, my fucking dignity! You can’t just walk away from me.”
The up side of having seen Bill blow a gasket more than a few times was that it no longer packed a punch. That or she no longer cared.
“Again, Bill, this isn’t a request. You cannot guilt me into staying with you. We agreed that we’d stay together as long as it makes sense. This doesn’t make sense. It never did. We were fools to believe it could work. I want a divorce and I’m ready to fight you for it.”
And the best part was, she was already geared up for battle.
Early last night…
She was suddenly in the mood for pie.
On her drive home from First Hill after visiting her sister she decided to stop by a coffee shop. She had been staring at the pastry display case for the past ten minutes before she finally ordered apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Nothing beats the classic.
Walking out of the coffee shop, she scanned the café patio with her plate of apple pie a la mode in hand. She found the perfect spot at the corner .
“Hi. Is this seat taken?” she asked the table’s sole occupant, flashing her megawatt smile.
The heavy built man with short light brown hair and blue eyes lifted his gaze from his John Grisham paperback. She watched as his expression went from surprised to confused to pleased. “No. Please, go right ahead,” he said pulling the iron-wrought chair beside him.
“Thanks. I’m Sookie, by the way.” She put her plate down and extended her hand to the man with two deep dimples in both cheeks.
“Ben.” He took her hand and gave it a firm grip.
“My, you have a nice accent, Ben,” she offered, pointing out his distinct British accent.
“So I’ve been told,” he quipped huskily.
Sookie smiled then turned her gaze to her dessert.
They fell into a companionable silence as Ben went back to his book and Sookie kept her gaze forward.
Minutes flew by without anyone attempting to shoo the crickets. It was Ben who caved first as he eyed Sookie’s untouched plate.
“Are you waiting for someone, Sookie?”
She shook her head lightly, turning her attention back to her dessert then to her companion. “Nope,” she said popping her lips sweetly. “Are you?”
“Not at all. I only asked because you haven’t touched your pie,” he replied with a sheepish grin. “Are you waiting for the ice cream to melt?”
It was Sookie’s turn to display her shallow dimple. She pushed her plate to the middle and flattened her palms on the round table, leaning toward him. “Actually, I’m waiting for you to melt.”
He closed his book and put it down before he leaned to her and licked his lips. “You are?” was his sultry comeback.
“I am.” She moved even closer. “So you’d tell me how much my husband is paying to follow me.”
Ben recoiled. Gone was his flirty grin as he sat up straight.
“I’m afraid you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” he replied automatically, his expression turning cold and distant.
“Let’s not do this dance, Ben,” she drawled. “My husband hired you to spy on me. Now, I want to know exactly what you told him or I’ll call the cops.”
His eyes narrowed. “I’m not doing anything illegal. You said so yourself, your husband hired me.”
She nodded. “Right, right. But did he know that you’re not a real PI? That you’re operating without a licence? How can you get one, when you’re an illegal alien in this country? You see, Ben, you might be a good PI but I know someone better. You’re spying on me so I think it’s only fair if I return the favor.”
Ben was no longer collected as he shifted uneasily in his seat.
“How much does he pay you?” she repeated.
“Four hundred a day.”
She smiled with satisfaction. “Tell you what, I’ll pay you half of your daily rate and in return you’ll stop following me and start following my husband instead. You’ll report everything to me and if you find something substantial I can use, I’ll ask my sister’s partner, who works at the Immigration, to help you with your visa. And that PI I was telling you about? Maybe I can talk him into hiring you to work for him so you can finally get a licence. Sounds fair?”
Sookie Stackhouse had never been accused of not playing fair.
His clenched jaw loosened. “When do I start?”
“What do you want to know?”
“Be careful what you wish for, Sookie. This can turn very ugly.”
“I don’t care,” she spat. “I’ve stopped caring what other people think of me a long time ago.”
“Are you sure about that?” he challenged before he turned around and made a dash toward the chaise lounge by the window where his briefcase was. She followed his movements with her eyes as he unlocked his attaché case and procured a thick white envelope.
Whatever Bill had in store for her, she was ready.
He waltzed in front of her, preening like a stupid peacock. “You might not give a damn what people think of you. But can you say the same about your sister?”
Her heart plummeted to her stomach. No! Not Pam, no.
He handed her the daunting envelope. She took it without breaking eye contact with him. Her hands shook as she pulled out six – no, seven – pieces of paper stapled together. She didn’t need to read what were written on the documents, the name at the top of page told her everything she needed to know.
It was a conscious effort to keep her hands from trembling as she lifted her gaze back to Bill.
“Her records were supposed to be sealed from the public,” she hissed. She knew it was Lilith who gave Bill the ammunition. She was the only one who had enough authority to pull Pam’s file from her brief stint at the rehab center in San Diego. It was one of the reasons Sookie had stayed away from Seattle for so long. She discerned that it was only a matter of time before Lilith would use her sister’s former substance abuse problem against her.
“Supposed to,” Bill retorted condescendingly. “Drastic times called for drastic measures. Especially when a child’s welfare is compromised. What do you think the adoption agency will do if they find out your sister is a recovering drug addict?”
She chewed on her lower lip to stop it from quivering. She was aware of Bill’s mean streak, she just didn’t realize she had married a monster.
He reached out to touch her cheek and she turned away sharply, revolted by the feel of his cold hand against her warm skin.
“This isn’t over,” she snarled. “I won’t stop fighting you.”
He sneered, prying the papers from her. She tugged at it like it was her lifeline. It was a futile effort; she had no doubt he had a backup copy stashed somewhere.
“Keep it. I have copies,” he said as though reading her thoughts. His hand slithered to her arm, gliding up and down its length making her skin crawl. She would have bolted if she weren’t trapped between Bill and the door.
He let out a puff of acrid breath. She put a hand on her stomach to keep her coffee down.
“If you force me to stay in this marriage, I swear I will make every day miserable for you,” she said through her teeth.
“Don’t you think I know that, dear?” he cooed. “That’s why I have a proposition for you.”
She levelled him with a glare, anticipating another underhanded move.
“I will give you your divorce,” he started, making her swallow thickly with forced optimism. “Under certain conditions.”
She deflated. She should have known it would come with a Faustian bargain.
“One,” he held up a finger, “we will stay married for at least a year.”
She shook her head. “No. I won’t let you drag this out.”
“Yes. You will,” he hissed, pausing dramatically as he looked pointedly at the envelope she was holding. He knew he had the upper hand. One word to Amelia Broadway or the adoption agency and Hunter would be taken away from her sister faster than she could say bloody hell.
She stayed silent. He must have taken that as her assent as he continued.
“Two,” he held up two fingers, taunting her. “During that period, you will play the role of a doting wife.”
“You must be out of your fucking mind if you think I’ll ever sleep with you again.”
His lips tugged into a leer. “It’s alright, dear, I think I can live without one drunken fuck a month.” He staggered back to the chaise lounge, slamming his briefcase close. “I suppose it goes without saying that you cannot be seen in public with Eric. You might not have a reputation to protect, but I still do and I will not have you sully my name with your lasciviousness.”
She thinned her lips as a thought crossed her mind.
“And three, discretion is a must. No one else can know about this. Breathe a word of it to your lover or your sister and the deal is off. Am I making myself clear, darling?”
It had been the longest day of her life as she cleaned and arranged the guest bedroom that would be hers from now on. She wept silently as she scrubbed and waxed the hardwood floors with Bill’s loud snoring played in the background. She dusted of the dresser and the closets and moved all of her belongings into her new room. She didn’t take a break until she was done. As long as she was moving she had a purpose. Breaks would only remind her of her defeat.
It was like the time when she went to New Hampshire after she miscarried. She had buried herself with menial chores while she dug a hole for the part of her that died with the child who never saw her face.
She sent Pam and Eric a brief text, apologizing for her absence and promising to explain everything later. Then she turned off her phone for the calls she was sure to get. She went to take a long bath, scrubbing her skin raw. Washing her epic fail away.
She stood by her window that overlooked Eric’s house, wishing he wasn’t there. He should still be at Pam’s waiting for her. She asked Pam to stall him. The last thing she needed was for Eric to barge in while Bill was in the house. That was an altercation she wasn’t certain she could control.
The sky turned from blue to gray and before she knew it, the night had fallen.
She heard the shower run in full blast as her maniacal husband came back to life after being dead to the world for the most of the day.
He slipped inside her room wearing a gray, v-neck long sleeves and black slacks, with his hair parted neatly. All suited up to celebrate his victory.
“I’m going out. Don’t wait up,” he said in a icy tone, like he was addressing a house staff. “Oh who am I kidding, when did you ever wait up.”
She didn’t even turn to look at him as she kept her eyes fixed on the house across the street.
Bill stomped down the stairs to the kitchen all the way to garage. His heavy footsteps were intentional, meant for her and her alone. She watched Bill’s car speed off the driveway. Three minutes later, her phone vibrated on top of the dresser. It was a text message from Ben. She typed a quick response before she went back to stand guard by the window. Less than an hour later, she saw a silver Audi pull into the garage.
She grabbed a blue cardigan and practically flew out of the house.
She spotted the hollow stone beside the pot of Japanese maple bonsai tree positioned perfectly near the back door. The short decorative plant with red leaves was a gift from her seven years ago. For the ten thousand years they would spend together, she had told him then. Seven years seemed like seven lifetimes away.
Plucking the spare key inside the empty rock, she let herself in. Using the faint light from her phone screen, she navigated her way into the bedroom. His bedroom.
She couldn’t pause to appraise the minimal furnishings. She didn’t have the time for such luxury.
Bounding up the stairs, she went straight to his room. It didn’t take Sherlock to discern which was his among the three bedrooms; she only needed to follow the light seeping from the narrow crack of the slightly ajar door.
She fought the urge to break into a run, taking every step with caution. Ever so gently, she pushed the door all the way open to find him sweeping the curtains to the side to peer at the window. Funny, ten minutes ago, she was doing the exact same thing.
“What, no binoculars? You disappoint me, Northman.”
He whipped around, eyes wide as saucers. But like the proud fox that he was, he shook off the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look and replaced it with a cold, stoic expression.
“So nice of you to show up.” He defaulted to sarcasm.
Her stomach tightened as she gripped the hem of her thin sweater. If his voice was any colder she would be able to see frosty mists puffing out of his lips.
“I’m sorry I had a -”
“-thing,” he cut her off. “Yeah you so eloquently told us when you left us all high and dry.”
She gnashed her teeth. She owed them more than a lame “I have a thing. Must attend to. Talk later,” missive but between hating Bill and herself she was tapped out of a better alibi.
“So. Are you done playing house with Billy Boy or do you still have to do that thing?”
She bit her lip hard. Eric was supposed to be on her side, dammit!
“Why’re you here, Sookie?”
“Because I want to be selfish. Because I don’t want to be a fucking doormat anymore. Because,” she choked. “Because I need to breathe, Eric. And I can only do that when I’m with you.”
She took a long shuddering breath to keep herself steady, the slightest of movements would make her crumble.
He didn’t speak a word as he stared at her intently, spot dissembling, questioning.
“What do you want?” he finally asked.
“I want to be yours again. Even just for tonight.”
His hands fisted on the sides as he took quick, long strides toward her, shoving both his hands into her hair to tilt her face to him. She could the tremor of his palms as he stared at her, drinking her in. Perhaps, he needed her too. Maybe, even more than he was willing to admit.
“No,” he growled. And Sookie thought she felt something hard pummeled against her chest. “I’ve waited too fucking long for you. You will be mine. But not only for tonight.”
Without another word his lips came crashing down on hers, taking her. She grabbed on to his shirt as their bodies melded together. He groaned loudly, overwhelming her with a passion that could almost make up for the three-week hiatus.
In one fell swoop he scooped her up and carried her to his enormous bed. There was nothing left to be said. No permission to be asked. No arguments or rebuttals. This would be the night the good girl dies.
Sookie Stackhouse was raised to be a good girl. But even nice girls could turn bad.