Dead to the World - By Charlaine Harris

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 tried to sound as calm as he.

“To Peru. The queen’s orders.”

“Still working on your, ah, database?” I knew almost nothing about computers, but Bill had studied hard to make himself computer literate.

“Yes. I’ve got a little more research to do. A very old vampire in Lima has a great fund of knowledge about those of our race on his continent, and I have an appointment to confer with him. I’ll do some sight-seeing while I’m down there.”

I fought the urge to offer Bill a bottle of synthetic blood, which would have been the hospitable thing to do. “Have a seat,” I said curtly, and nodded at the sofa. I sat on the edge of the old recliner catty-cornered to it. Then a silence fell, a silence that made me even more conscious of how unhappy I was.

“How’s Bubba?” I asked finally.

“He’s in New Orleans right now,” Bill said. “The queen likes to keep him around from time to time, and he was so visible here over the last month that it seemed like a good idea to take him elsewhere. He’ll be back soon.”

You’d recognize Bubba if you saw him; everyone knows his face. But