My army of fae laid into Mr. Salvatore with abandon. I don’t know what I thought would happen – I’d hoped that they would overwhelm him immediately. From the sounds of fighting behind me, they hadn’t. But maybe I’d acted quickly enough that Mr. Salvatore hadn’t been able to finish off Hans. Caesar had been stabbed, like, twenty times and still had breath to call Brutus a dick. Mr. Salvatore couldn’t have gotten Hans more than half that many times. And hadn’t Hans said that anything not instantly lethal was just an inconvenience to him? Except silver. But what kind of whiny Viking lycanthrope can’t handle a little silver?
Hans had to be okay. I’d put him in danger by telling him about Mr. Salvatore, and Hans had put his life between that danger and my own. If I was going to be tortured to death by my own psychopathic murder minions, Hans had damn well better survive to appreciate my sacrifice.
If he didn’t, I would… I’d…
My laughter had given way to sobbing. My tears had stopped entirely. My face hurt and I was still curled up in the fetal position, listening to the battle behind me.
If Hans dies, I thought fiercely, then I’m going to dump his ass. I don’t date wussy werewolves.
Then I cried out as a hand tangled in my hair and ripped me to my feet. Mr. Salvatore grabbed me across the shoulders and held me in front of himself like a shield. His knife was at my throat. “Your prize is worthless if she’s dead,” he shouted. “Worthless!”
My heart thundered. I didn’t dare breathe for fear of cutting my own throat. My host of goblins pulled back and watched us with glittering, hungry eyes. Mr. Salvatore slowly retreated toward Hans’ car. The goblins followed. The distance between us never wavered. The goblins advanced like circling, stalking hyenas. Their eyes never strayed from Mr. Salvatore.
“Sunlight,” one of the goblins crooned.
“No,” said another. “Decapitation.”
The others started to giggle.
“Cut out his heart,” came a suggestion.
“No, you put a stake through it,” another said.
“That doesn’t really work,” the first sneered.
“No,” agreed Mr. Stake. “But if you put a stake through his heart after you cut it out, then you can roast it in the sun while the rest of him is still alive to feel it.”
“Ooooooo,” the goblins crooned in admiration.
Mr. Salvatore continued to back away. I swallowed despite myself – my neck stung where it brushed the knife’s edge. But I couldn’t help it. The way the fae were taunting Mr. Salvatore; just like they’d been taunting me…. Was Mr. Salvatore afraid?
Mr. Salvatore said his hunger only cared about survival. But fear is a survival thing. It tells us when to run the fuck away.
We weren’t to Hans’ car yet. That would be the turning point. The fae would have to either rush us or let Mr. Salvatore escape.
“Take the wolf with my blessing and count yourselves lucky,” Mr. Salvatore called to the fae. “Attack me and I’ll kill this wretch and send as many of you back to Avalon as I can before being overwhelmed. Do you want to gamble, trolls? Are you confident you will taste my death, or will you be one of those I dispatch to shame and hunger in fairyland?”
The wolf? Hans! Some of the fae started to drift away from the pack circling us. It had to mean that Hans was alive. Otherwise, why would they take that deal? Mr. Salvatore used the goblins’ distraction to continue his retreat.
“Oh don’t you dare!” I snapped to my utter surprise. It surprised the fae, too. The ones who had been slinking toward Hans froze and looked at me. They knew who I was shouting at. “That’s my boyfriend,” I yelled. “Mr. Salvatore has no right to offer him up and you have no right to take him from me when you can’t even beat me in a stupid duel.”
The fae glanced at each other. I remembered Mr. Tophat’s attempts to claim me. Possession was nine-tenths of mortal law, but it seemed to be all of it to the fae. I was pretty sure that if I made a good case, Hans would be safe from them. Maybe.
“He’s my soldier,” Mr. Salvatore said flatly. “I willingly surrender him as a necessary sacrifice of war. The girl and I leave unhindered in exchange.”
“Bullshit!” I squawked. “I call bullshit. Hans stood up to you in order to protect me. You tried to murder him, thus relinquishing any right you had to his loyalty.” Somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware that arguing with an undead psychopath who had a knife to your throat while you’re surrounded by a swarm of murderous emotional cannibals might not be the best of ideas. But I was in one of those places where I was so far past terror that I’d forgotten what fear looked like. Hell, I’d done a lap and come back to bravado.
So I put on my bravado and rolled with it.
“Hans is mine,” I declared. “The scratches down his back; his arm; his side. Mine. I marked him and claimed him last night and he bowed to my rules. And that means he’s my boyfriend until I say otherwise, because I’m the fucking crazy-ass possessive type.”
I definitely had the goblins’ attention. Mr. Salvatore’s grip tightened threateningly. It was the wrong move – to an experienced pathological coward like myself, it just betrayed his own fear. It meant I was winning. For a given value of ‘win’, where that value was everyone wanting me dead more than anyone else.
Maybe I needed to re-evaluate my definition of victory. I made a mental note to do that when I had time. For now, I was just riding out the moment to what triumph I could.
“You got that?” I shouted. “If any of you want to get anything out of this fucked up evening, you’ve got to go through me. And that means you’ve got to go through Mr. Salvatore. So chop chop, people. I wanted his head on a plate ten minutes ago. At this rate I’m gonna win, and you don’t even want to know the boons I’ll demand.”
Actually, I hoped they’d surrender. I was going to demand Mr. Salvatore’s ashes scattered over the ocean. Maybe, since there was a whole horde of them, they wouldn’t turn chickenshit and run like Mr. Tophat. I mean, it’s not like Mr. Salvatore could consume the life essence of one of them if twenty others were ganking him at the same time.
Sure, Mr. Salvatore would kill me before the goblins could get to me, but… Hell, I was a goner no matter what happened.
At least Mr. Salvatore would make it fast. I’d always thought that movie bad guys who offered a quick death in exchange for cooperation were dumbasses. Now that I was staring the alternative in its many drooling faces, I was starting to think that a quick death might be a legitimate bargaining chip.
The goblins crept forward. The ones that had been slinking toward Hans rejoined the others. It looked like I’d won. I did my best to rejoice while I could. As soon as Mr. Salvatore figured it out, I was dead.
But before I could start my mental celebration, Mr. Salvatore spun. I had only an instant to realize we’d backed up across from the open door of Hans’ Hummer before Mr. Salvatore chucked me bodily through it. I shrieked. My head bounced off the passenger side window and I landed half on my back and half on my butt in the seat.
Mr. Salvatore was in the driver’s seat before I’d finished realizing what was happening. I tried to kick him out, but he’d already slammed the door shut. I twisted around and fumbled with the passenger door, but before I could get it open Mr. Salvatore threw the Hummer in reverse. He pulled a sharp backward turn into the street, and goblins scattered as the headlights slashed through them.
I got the door open, but before I could gather myself together and fling myself out Mr. Salvatore grabbed my ankle. My bad ankle. He clenched with bone crushing force – hard enough that my vision swam and I couldn’t voice more than a strangled mewl of agonized protest. Mr. Salvatore yanked me back and hit the gas. The sudden forward momentum made the door swing shut. The door locks clicked into place throughout the car. Then Mr. Salvatore shoved my legs over to my half of the front seats.
I pulled them off the dashboard and, sobbing miserably, did my best to curl in on myself. Maybe Hans was alive. Maybe the fae would respect my claim on him. Maybe Katherine or Emma would find Megan. Maybe not. Everything that mattered was out of my ability to influence, now, which left me with nothing to focus on except my own circumstances.
I hurt everywhere. I was bruised and scraped and functionally lame. I’d made my best friend run off and cry, and now I had no one to rely one but myself. Just me versus an immortal, soulless psychopath who was driving me who knew where to do who knew what.
I should have surrendered to Mr. Tophat.
Yeah, I was pretty sure he’d been a psychopath, too – but at least if I were chained up in Mr. Tophat’s fairyland dungeon awaiting god knew what tortures… Well, at least I wouldn’t be freaking out about being unbuckled in a speeding car that was being driven by the madman who’d abducted me, instead.