Dead to the World



Though they'll probably never read it, this book is dedicated to all the coaches - baseball, football, volleyball, soccer - who've worked through so many years, often for no monetary reward, to coax athletic performances out of my children and to instill in them an understanding of The Game. God bless you all, and thanks from one of the moms who crowds the stands through rain, cold, heat, and mosquitoes.

However, this mom always wonders who else might be watching the night games.

My thanks to Wiccans who answered my call for knowledge with more information than I could use - Maria Lima, Sandilee Lloyd, Holly Nelson, Jean Hontz, and M. R. "Murv" Sellars. I owe further thanks to other experts in different fields: Kevin Ryer, who knows more about feral hogs than most people do about their own pets; Dr. D. P. Lyle, who is so gracious about answering medical questions; and, of course, Doris Ann Norris, reference librarian to the stars.

If I have made mistakes in the use of the knowledge these kind people imparted, I'll do my best to somehow blame it on them.

I found the note taped to my door when I got home from work. I'd had the lunch-to-early-evening shift at Merlotte's, but since we were at the tail end of December, the day darkened early. So Bill, my former boyfriend - that's Bill Compton, or Vampire Bill, as most of the regulars at Merlotte's call him - must have left his message within the previous hour. He can't get up until dark.

I hadn't seen Bill in over a week, and our parting hadn't been a happy one. But touching the envelope with my name written on it made me feel miserable. You'd think - though I'm twenty-six - I'd never had, and lost, a boyfriend before.

You'd be right.

Normal guys don't want to date someone as strange as I am. People have been saying I'm messed up in the head since I started school.

They're right.

That's not to say I don't get groped at the bar occasionally. Guys get drunk. I look good. They forget their misgivings about my reputation for strangeness and my ever-present smile.

But only Bill has ever gotten close to me in an intimate way. Parting from him had hurt me bad.

I waited to open the envelope until I was sitting at the old, scarred kitchen table. I still had my coat on, though I'd shucked my gloves.

Dearest Sookie - I wanted to come over to talk to you when you had somewhat recovered from the unfortunate events of earlier this month.

"Unfortunate events," my round rear end. The bruises had finally faded, but I had a knee that still ached in the cold, and I suspected that it always would. Every injury I had incurred had been in the course of rescuing my cheating boyfriend from his imprisonment by a group of vampires that included his former flame, Lorena. I had yet to figure out why Bill had been so infatuated with Lorena that he'd answered her summons to Mississippi.

Probably, you have a lot of questions about what happened.

Damn straight.

If you'll talk to me face-to-face, come to the front door and let me in.

Yikes. I hadn't seen that one coming. I pondered for a minute. Deciding that while I didn't trust Bill anymore, I didn't believe that he would physically harm me, I went back through the house to the front door. I opened it and called, "Okay, come on in."

He emerged from the woods surrounding the clearing in which my old house stood. I ached at the sight of him. Bill was broad-shouldered and lean from his life of farming the land next to mine. He was hard and tough from his years as a Confederate soldier, before his death in 1867. Bill's nose was straight off a Greek vase. His hair was dark brown and clipped close to his head, and his eyes were just as dark. He looked exactly the same as he had while we were dating, and he always would.

He hesitated before he crossed the threshold, but I'd given him permission, and I moved aside so he could step past me into the living room filled with old, comfortable furniture and neat as a pin.

"Thank you," he said in his cold, smooth voice, a voice that still gave me a twinge of sheer lust. Many things had gone wrong between us, but they hadn't started in bed. "I wanted to talk to you before I left."

"Where are you going?" I