I tried not to gawk. How the hell had Mr. Stalker Creep known about Megan’s feelings for me when I hadn’t?
“You- That’s- No, she doesn’t,” I stammered. I didn’t manage to sound very convincing.
“Oh, but she does,” Mr. Salvatore contradicted playfully. From his tone he clearly knew I was bullshitting myself with my denial. He took a perverse glee in stripping that away. “I watched poor dear Katie moon after her for a year before I got fed up enough to step in. That was more than enough time to divine the reason Katie’s feelings remained so pathetically unrequited.”
Mr. Salvatore chuckled. “What’s more, I tasted my beloved’s feelings for you, myself, when I finally decided to indulge and sample her blood. I assure you they are quite strong enough to bring her running. Why, she even used them to stave off my own advances. Have you any idea how hard it is for a mortal to resist a vampire’s compulsion when their blood is first taken? Oh, she wouldn’t have been able to hold out more than a few minutes – but I was so surprised she hadn’t succumbed at once that I let her slip away when you so inconveniently interrupted us.
Mr. Salvatore spoke with jocular ease, as though last year’s encounter was a humorous hiccup in his plans instead of the nightmarish brush with death I hadn’t realized it was at the time. “You didn’t bite her,” I protested. I was clinging to denial – not of Megan’s feelings for me, but denial that Mr. Salvatore had ever gotten his hooks in her on my watch. “I was there. There weren’t marks. She wasn’t bleeding.”
Mr. Salvatore chuckled. “And you are so knowledgeable as to what to look for, are you? But you’re right, I didn’t bite her. She was already bleeding,” he said. “Just a drop.”
I felt faint. Megan had gone to the bathroom to check her blood sugar. I remembered that.
“It was incredible,” Mr. Salvatore breathed in rapturous remembrance. “As exquisitely perfect as the woman herself.” For a second I thought he’d forgotten I was there – Mr. Salvatore wasn’t even staring at the road. He was gazing back at his memory of the past. “I had desired her before,” Mr. Salvatore admitted. “But after?” He sighed. “It is no longer possible to divide desire from need. Poor Katie – my favorite for so long! She couldn’t compare. I drank to the dregs in hope of finding something to replace what you’d stolen.” He scowled. “It was like slaking myself on ash and regret. I should have just killed her for dissuading me from taking my due sooner.”
I recoiled from Mr. Salvatore – as far as I could while strapped into my seat. “Megan isn’t yours,” I told him.
He looked at me. “I am not a fae,” he sneered. “What is mine is whatever I choose to claim, not merely what I trick someone into giving.”
I turned away from him first. I’d gotten my arch-villain’s soliloquy from him and it hadn’t helped. I couldn’t stomach facing him anymore. Especially not when he wasn’t watching the road. I stared out the window and tried to think. After these past two days, watching the houses flicker by faster than my thoughts was becoming a disturbingly familiar experience.
Then I realized that the houses themselves were familiar. “Mr. Salvatore,” I asked with trepidation, “where are you taking me?”
“I’d think that was obvious,” Mr. Salvatore said. “If I’m going to have you lure out my Megan then you need to be somewhere that won’t arouse her suspicion.”
“Oh,” I said. Of course. “So your plan is to kill my best friend, raise her from the dead, and feed me to her – in my own home?!”
Mr. Salvatore laughed. “Better yours than mine,” he said. “It will be more convincing when I cast you as the villainess, after.” He smirked. “And the newly risen are such eager, messy eaters. This way I won’t have to replace my carpets.”
I felt sick. “I’m not going to call her,” I said flatly. I was putting too much effort into not throwing up to use inflection.
“I’m not going to give you a choice,” Mr. Salvatore countered cheerfully. He pulled into the parking lot for my complex and down to the far end where I lived. For the second time in as many nights, Han’s Hummer found itself parked outside my apartment.
Funny. I’d always thought if the undead killed me at home, it would be zombies. I’d always expected vampires to be too posh to eat out of a can.
Mr. Salvatore turned off the car and got out. I thought about hitting the door locks – but that wouldn’t matter. Mr. Salvatore had the remote on the keys. He came over to my side and popped the door.
“Come,” Mr. Salvatore said impatiently. I barely had time to unbuckle my seatbelt before he yanked me out of the car. He twisted my arm behind my back and grabbed the top of my corsetry – his knuckles dug into my back between my shoulders. I tried not to freak out at the feeling of his burnt, ruined flesh scraping against my skin.
Mr. Salvatore half carried and half marched me to my door. When we got there I was nearly in tears from my twisted ankle. I could have tried not to let it drag on the walk, but that would have been a fool’s play. I know myself. When I’m freaked out badly enough I’ll hurt myself to cope. Scalding my hands. Holding my breath until I feel faint. Whatever. Pain I can handle. It just makes me sharp. But the threat of pain? The dread of agony? The fear of being hurt? That was how Mr. Salvatore could break me – if I weren’t already too hurt to care.
I wasn’t about to let Mr. Salvatore scare me into betraying Megan. Fuck that.
So I let my foot drag while he forced me to the door and took solace in the effort I expended on not crying. The pain kept the clutter out of my thoughts; kept everything focused.
“Open the door,” Mr. Salvatore hissed.
I fumbled in my purse for my keys. Would pepper spray work on a vampire? I suspected if I used the little canister on my key ring I’d hurt myself more than him. My hand trembled as I undid the lock. I squeezed my eyes shut and pushed open the door.
I would not invite Mr. Salvatore in. I would not, no matter what he threatened. Hans had said a recently fed vampire could enter a house uninvited, but that it would hurt and drain him. Mr. Salvatore was already drained, if I was extrapolating right from Han’s exclamation when he’d seen that Mr. Salvatore’s mangled hand wasn’t magically regenerating.
So I wasn’t going to let Mr. Salvatore in. I wasn’t going to let him set an ambush for Megan in my own home. And, if I got a chance, I was going to get myself through that door and into safety.
Then Mr. Salvatore chucked me through.
I yelped in surprise, tried to catch myself, failed – and sprawled out on the floor in front of my bed. What the hell had just happened? I twisted around. In the dark all I could see was Mr. Salvatore’s silhouette framed by the door.
“But I didn’t invite you in,” I gasped in confusion. “You can’t come in!” I yelled. What the hell was he up to?
“No,” Mr. Salvatore said. His sleek accent sent shivers of dread down my spine. “I cannot. Not without hurting myself rather badly. Badly enough, I am confident, that when I turn you into my thrall and obedient servant the blood I claim from you will not be sufficient to push me into being the mewling wretch I despise – but rather, just enough to mend my injuries before my beloved’s arrival.”
My eyes widened. “Come in!” I shrieked, but it was too late – Mr. Salvatore had already stepped through the door. His agonized howl drowned out my shriek and he staggered sideways into the door frame. I twisted around and scrabbled at the floor, half crawling and half dragging myself away from him as he lurched into the living room.
I wasn’t fast enough. Mr. Salvatore caught my ankle – my good one – and yanked me backward. My fingers clawed at the floor for purchase, but to no avail. I tried to twist and kick but it just sent torrents of agony down my leg when my foot connected and jarred my ankle. I didn’t care. Sobbing, I kept kicking at him for all I was worth.
Mr. Salvatore didn’t seem to care, either. My heel bounced off his shoulder; his temple. He just snarled like a feral beast and hauled me closer. His other hand grabbed my thigh hard enough to bruise it. He levered my leg up higher; high enough that my butt left the ground and I was rolling and scraping my bare shoulders against the floor while I screamed and flailed at him with my other foot.
Then Mr. Salvatore tilted his head. He snapped forward like a snake, and his fangs tore into my leg.