I was still freaking out when Jimmy barged into my office with my printouts. Except it wasn’t Jimmy with my book, it was Hans.
“Hello,” he said from the doorway – and then he noticed I wasn’t at my desk. He looked down at me, still huddled by the wall, and his eyebrows disappeared under his bangs. He hastily stepped into the office and pulled the door shut to give us some privacy. Then he glanced around the room. “Is something wrong?” he asked quietly.
I scrambled up to my feet. I was terrified that Megan was one of Mr. Salvatore’s harem girls and he was going to kill her. Fortunately, Hans would know – all I had to do was ask him. So of course I blurted out “I think there’s a goblin under my desk,” instead.
Hans handed me the spiral-bound manga printout he was carrying. Then he prowled silently over to my desk.
I blinked. Oh, right… that stuff was real and he was taking me seriously, like I even knew what I was talking about. “Um,” I said, “you don’t have to…”
But Hans had already ducked down under my desk to check. I bit my lip and let him, even though I felt pretty stupid about it because I knew there was nothing there and I was just suffering from paranoid anxiety. It wasn’t my fault if my freaked out delusions overlapped with his reality! He was the one who had to go and be a werewolf!
Hans came back up from under the desk with a grunt. “It’s gone now,” he reassured me.
I laughed uneasily. Once again I was being saved from looking like a nutcase by the fact that the world had turned out to be crazier than I was. But that didn’t really make me feel better – I wanted the idea that Megan was one of Mr. Salvatore’s blood sources to be too crazy to be true, but I didn’t think I was going to get to be that lucky.
“So,” I said, “what brings you up here in Jimmy’s stead?”
“I was working down with the printers this morning,” Hans said. “When your job came through Jimmy said it was probably for Fumiko – and since I didn’t get to meet her yesterday, I offered to bring it up.”
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry. It’s just me.”
Hans shook his head with a smile. “I’m not even remotely disappointed,” he informed me.
“Oh,” I reiterated. “Um. Well, Fumiko should be at the party tonight, so you should get to meet her then.”
Hans leaned casually against the edge of my desk and rubbed his chin. “Is that so?” he rumbled. “Then you’ll have to introduce us.”
“Sure,” I said – then rapidly backpedaled. “Wait. No. I’m not agreeing to make an appearance that easily,” I declared. In fact, at the moment I was leaning rather heavily toward the idea of freaking out about something at Club Luminescence in order to keep Megan from coming to the office party while Mr. Salvatore was still in residence. It was a solid plan: if nothing came up for me to panic over in order to keep Megan and Mr. Salvatore separate, then not having anything to panic over would probably be enough to do the trick.
Hans grinned. “Is there anything I can do to sway you?” he asked, and I shivered despite myself. His tone implied he expected the answer to be a ‘yes’ and his sexy-ass accent continued to make my libido suggest indecent options.
But the answer was no. It had to be no. I just wasn’t sure I could trust myself not to blurt out ‘yes’ instead, so I changed the subject.
“Hans,” I began, “Has Mr. Salvatore fed today?” Hans straightened in surprise at the nonsequitor. “Katherine stopped by,” I hastily explained, “and she said he’d sent her away. But she used to be his donor, right?” Maybe if I knew Mr. Salvatore was well fed I wouldn’t have to worry as much about him going berserk from hunger and killing Megan.
Hans sighed. “Katherine was one of them and trusted to manage the others, yes. But after what happened, I can’t say I’m really surprised that Salvatore doesn’t trust himself around her.” He cleared his throat. “To answer your question, he took some of my blood before coming to the office. I’m a supernatural, so it takes less from me to keep him on this side of being alive – and I’m strong enough to fight him off if it comes to that.” He chuckled ruefully. “Well, to hold him off long enough for him to come to his senses, at least,” Hans corrected himself. He watched my expression carefully. “Why?” Then, more hesitantly, “Is that a problem?”
“No,” I said. And it really wasn’t. Squicky? Maybe a little. Further fodder for my Hans/Salvatore slashfic? Oh, hell yes. A problem? I wasn’t sure why Hans thought it might be. But it wasn’t reassuring, either. If Mr. Salvatore didn’t trust himself to keep control around Katherine then it meant he couldn’t be trusted to keep himself under control, and he knew it. Which meant I couldn’t trust him around Megan.
Especially with the added complication that Megan might be in the same boat as Katherine, and unable to control herself around Mr. Salvatore. I grimaced. I didn’t like thinking about Megan and Katherine in that context. In fact, I didn’t really like thinking about Megan and Katherine together in any context. If they weren’t friends, I wouldn’t be worried that Megan was contemplating suicide by exsanguination.
Why did Megan and Katherine have to start hanging out together, anyway? It’s not like they had anything in common. Megan is a kindhearted, easygoing party girl and Katherine is a stone cold domineering bitch with a superiority complex. The more I thought about it the angrier I got. Especially since the only point of congruity between them I could come up with – the one I kept coming back to – was Mr. Salvatore.
“Abigail?” Hans asked, interrupting my worry/hate-on-Katherine spiral. I blinked. He’d been saying something, and I’d totally spaced out on it.
“What?” I asked,” then I said: “No,” and hoped that was a more valid response – before shaking myself into reconsidering. There were just too many things you could blindly answer ‘no’ to and then have it come back to bite you in the ass. Such as ‘would you not like me to bite your ass right now?’ And wouldn’t Hans just love it if I got that one wrong? He was a biter. Cheeky werewolf. “Wait. I mean, could you repeat that? I got distracted.”
Hans quirked his eyebrows. “I was trying to convince you to change your mind about tonight, but I think I’ll just have an awkwardly anxious evening, waiting for you until midnight instead.”
I flushed. “You know,” I pointed out, “if I did show up and we made out at midnight in front of all my coworkers – your future employees, I might add – that would be awkward.”
“Perhaps,” Hans conceded. “But I suspect it would be much more enjoyable than looming over the punch bowl, twiddling my fingers and wishing you’d shown up, instead.”
My flush deepened and Hans grinned. “So, what were you so engrossed in contemplating that it distracted you?” he asked with exaggeratedly idle curiosity.
I opened my mouth, but failed to say anything. I felt like I had to look like a fish. “Katherine,” I managed to admit when I tried again – and it probably said something about my frame of mind that I hadn’t blurted out something made up and random, such as how it would also be more enjoyable and less awkward if we happened to find ourselves in some closed, private office at about five before midnight and gave my imagination free reign with reality. But that wasn’t going to happen. That’s why it was made-up. I suppressed a mental giggle that threatened to turn both maniacal and audible. No. No.
Hans just threw me that much off kilter. But then again, in the face of everything else that had happened in the past twenty-four hours, Hans’ ongoing flirtations were the part I had the most trouble wrapping my head around. I mean… Megan is the one people want. Hence my genuine and legitimate concern with Mr. Salvatore’s creepy stalker/vampire/murderer vibe.
“Oh?” Hans asked, and I tried to pull my thoughts together – and out of that office – enough to explain. And trying to get them together made them suddenly click.
Katherine was stone cold. Stone cold sober, to be exact. I couldn’t remember Katherine being drunk last year. Or ever. Megan, on the other hand, had been the next best thing to wasted. Wasted, and alone with Mr. Salvatore – who didn’t trust himself not to lose control anymore. Wasted, alone, and checking her blood sugar with a finger prick. Click.
Mr. Salvatore had assaulted Megan, and after I’d gotten her out of there he’d attacked Katherine to finish off his craving. I felt sick. That made Katherine’s hospitalization my fault, but only because I’d stopped it from happening to Megan. And now I knew Mr. Salvatore had come back for Megan. And he’d brought help. Click.
I wasn’t the one guys go after. Megan was. I was the plain-Jane and slightly insane friend they had to sic their wingman on to get the real prize alone.
Ding: Hans’ flirtations made perfect sense. They weren’t real. He was just a distraction, playing with me to give Mr. Salvatore a clear shot at Megan. After all, weren’t he and Mr. Salvatore old friends? Wasn’t that what wingmen did? Wasn’t that the only reason anyone had ever set their sights on me?
Hans straightened. Perhaps some supernatural sense of his had clued him in that I was on to him – not only was he playing around with me, but he cheated, too. “Abigail?” he asked hesitantly. “Is something wrong?”
Something was well past wrong. I was beyond seething and rapidly leaving furious behind as well. But for the first time since Hans had turned his boyish grin and heroic physique and sexy accent loose on me, my mind was operating at one-hundred percent undistracted clarity. Which put the whole decision-making/social interactions process comfortably out of my conscious control.
“No,” I said, “I’m just worried about Katie.” I didn’t stumble over the diminution of Katherine’s name – though I suspected ‘Katie’ was getting psychically pinged that there was someone she needed to murder for being too familiar. “I always kind of liked her, so it’s a little worrisome to see her coming back to someone who hurt her so badly, you know? But I guess there’s no real understanding the depths of their relationship from where I’m at, so… I guess I’m torn between hoping she isn’t too hurt that he told her to go away, and feeling like she’s escaped a potentially abusive boyfriend, you know?”
Hans nodded sympathetically. “They’d been together for…” he did some mental math. “…over twenty years, I think,” Hans said. Most donors recover from the initial infatuation of being enthralled after a year, but after twenty? Well, that’s plenty of time for real emotions to grow.”
I nodded in concerned agreement, but all I’d really heard Hans say was that a vampire could leave someone infatuated – enthralled – for about a year just by feeding on them. Had Mr. Salvatore stayed away for so long to make sure Megan wasn’t bound to him when they met again? Or had he put in the effort to get out of ‘rehab’ as soon as he had to make sure she would still be enamored with him when he showed up to claim her?
“I’ll tell you what,” I told Hans. “Why don’t you leave me your number and I’ll call you when Megan and I are on our way to the office party.” I smiled. It was a call I had no intention of making since I had no intention of letting Megan anywhere near Mr. Salvatore – but Hans didn’t need to know that, and if they thought we were going to come to them of our own volition maybe it would cut down on Hans’ and Mr. Salvatore’s contingency planning for when we didn’t.
I suppressed a shiver while Hans grinned and snagged a pen and post-it from my desk. In Mr. Salvatore’s case… far too literally.