Mr. Salvatore’s fangs didn’t really hurt.
The rest of his teeth did.
Then his bite tore a hole through my soul, and trivial things like agony ceased to matter. My fear and pain and will to live drained away with my blood. Objectively, I should have felt violated. Probably.
Instead, I was having trouble feeling anything at all.
I stopped struggling. I felt cold, and light headed, and other physical things – but they were all devoid of emotional context. They were just sensations without meaning.
Then context returned. I was being fed on by Salvatore. And that was good and right, except maybe that he deserved better than my scrawny, worthless self. How had I ever thought otherwise? Salvatore deserved whatever he wanted. I owed him for getting in his way last year. Hell, the whole damn world owed him for his service in the wars, and it was an insult that so many people didn’t even know it! So, yeah – I was perfectly okay with Salvatore taking whatever he wanted.
Whatever he wanted was his for the taking.
Salvatore pulled away from his meal and let my leg go. My butt hit the floor just before my feet. I didn’t hurt, though. Not even my sprained ankle. I blinked in confusion and sat up. Somehow I could see better than I’ve ever been able to in the dark. It was almost like the lights were on.
I looked down at myself and gasped. All my scrapes and bruises were gone. Other than the tears and smears of blood and stains on my tights, there wasn’t even a sign that I’d gone skidding on the concrete earlier – or that I’d just been bit. I flexed my bad ankle. It didn’t even twinge.
“H-How?” I asked in astonishment.
“Shared life,” Salvatore grated. I looked up at him in surprise. His face was scrunched up like he was under a serious strain. The cuts the goblins had given him were gone – the worst of them finished closing before my very eyes. “Your essence is still yours while I am consuming it, but it is also becoming mine, so there is some bleed over between us.” He grit his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. “Fuck,” he gasped. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Sorry,” I said for whatever it was. Damned if I could answer, though. I’d been asking myself that for years. Also, I was a little distracted. I’d already thought Salvatore was god’s gift to yaoi daydreams, but how come I’d never realized he was really God’s gift to women? No, to the world. The man was perfection in human form.
I wondered if that was really the case, or if that was just how he thought of himself. I blinked. That was a silly thought. Of course he was that great! I couldn’t believe I used to think he was creepy and sinister. Just because someone was creepy and sinister, it didn’t mean he was creepy and sinister.
I frowned. Wait, that didn’t make sense.
Salvatore groaned and put his palm on his forehead. I shifted to look at him – I hoped he was okay! The sound of my movement mad him jump like a startled cat. “Fuck!” he shouted again. “Don’t scare me like…” He broke off abruptly and scowled at me. “You are one fucked up piece of trash,” he growled.
Ohhhhh. Shared life force, or whatever. My poor Salvatore was dealing with a bellyful of my anxious paranoia. Literally. And since Paranoia was a survival thing of mine, it was probably hitting him extra hard since he was being so careful not to be alive enough to have normal emotions.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. I really was, too. I’ve always regretted that I am the way I am, but for the first time ever I found myself kind of jealous of Megan. If I really were her instead of myself, then he would want me instead of her. Only I’d be her instead of me, so that wouldn’t work, would it? My thoughts felt all dizzy and messed up. Probably because I wasn’t paying enough attention to how wonderful Mr. Salvatore was.
What a narcissist.
A wonderful, wonderful narcissist. I loved that about him. He deserved to be narcissistic. It wasn’t even a character flaw, because he really was that wonderful.
Why did that sound sarcastic?
“Call Megan,” Mr. Salvatore snapped at me. He turned and checked the curtains. Then he pulled them aside just enough to peer into the parking lot. “Now,” he snarled.
He had my sympathy. My levels of neurosis aren’t meant to be dealt with by the inexperienced. Given that he was already a wonderfully obsessive bloodthirsty sociopath, adding my brand of paranoia to the mix was probably pushing things.
I wondered if I should warn him about the Chupacabracorn, or let him hold on to what blissful ignorance he could.
I sat up and fished my phone out of my purse. “It’ll be okay,” I told Mr. Salvatore reassuringly. “I’ve been paranoid my whole life, and I’ve only been abducted once. And assaulted in my own home once. And ambushed by faeries twice. And—“
“Shut up and call!” Mr. Salvatore snarled.
I pouted. I’d only been trying to show him that, however he might feel right now, the odds that something horrific would happen at any given moment were only four or five in however many moments there are in twenty four years. Of course, if we shifted the scale from twenty four years to the past two hours, and stopped caring about any given moment and started worrying about the next two hours…. Well, then those odds changed to a four hundred percent chance of something bad happening. So, okay, maybe he was right to be worried.
So why wasn’t I? That seemed strange, didn’t it? I could totally get what Emma saw in the whole ‘blood donor to a vampire’ thing. The only other times I’d ever felt this calm had been when I’ve been on the brink of a panic attack and Megan was there to sit with me and hold me and make everything better.
I frowned at my phone. Megan was at the top of my speed dial. The only other numbers I had programmed in were Fumiko, work, Mom and Hans.
Megan. I could feel how Mr. Salvatore felt about Megan. I knew it was how he felt about her because it was different than how I felt about her. I relied on her. I felt guilty about imposing on her. I wanted to give to her the way she gave for me, but I just wasn’t capable. And I felt bad about wanting that, too, because if Megan needed from me like I needed from her then it would be classic codependence, but Megan deserved to be the strong, sexy, independent individual she was.
Mr. Salvatore, on the other hand, just wanted her. He wanted her devotion. He wanted her body. He wanted her blood. There was nothing of giving in Mr. Salvatore’s desires. He wanted to take. And he didn’t care what that would mean for her.
Suddenly Mr. Salvatore was crouched in front of me. His face was inches from mine. Our gazes locked. “Stop fighting,” Mr. Salvatore ordered, “And call.”
My hands trembled, but I hit dial and brought the phone to my ear. Mr. Salvatore didn’t move or look away. His attention was mesmerizing. The phone rang once. It wasn’t going straight to voice mail anymore. Would Megan pick up? The phone rang again. I hoped Megan wouldn’t answer. Then I could have Mr. Salvatore all to myself. Was that my possessiveness, or Salvatore’s?
It didn’t matter. On the third ring, the phone picked up.
“Abby?” Megan whispered on the other end. She sounded hoarse and numb, like I sound when I’ve been crying.
I felt horrible. How could I be so selfish about Salvatore when Megan was hurt? She’d selflessly pushed Hans my way. The least I could do was return the favor. Salvatore would get Megan’s mind off of stupid me – he was wonderful.
“Hey,” I said gently.
“I’m sorry I ran off,” Megan said. “Something came up,” she finished lamely.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I got home. Are you alright?”
“What?” Megan forced a laugh. “Of course. I’m fine. Just got dragged away. How about you? Does Hans have competition?”
It was painfully obvious that she was forcing herself to sound okay – but then, she didn’t know I was finally aware of her real feelings. And how much it must have hurt her for me to go off with Emma instead, without ever noticing that Megan wanted to be more than friends, herself.
Mr. Salvatore leaned in closer. His glare instructed me to cut the chitchat short and hurry it up already.
“Not from Emma,” I said. Not from anyone, really – in order for Hans to have competition I’d have to survive the night. But Mr. Salvatore had already taken that option off the table with his plans.
“Um, can you come over?” I asked. Normally I’d known she would say yes. For the first time ever, I thought Megan might say no. I felt like a bitch just asking. What right had I to ask her a favor? All I ever did was take from her and hurt her and not even notice it. And that was not okay.
But this wasn’t about me, was it? This was about Mr. Salvatore. He wanted Megan, and it was totally fine for him to just take what he wanted.
Why did it feel like it wasn’t?
After a moment, Megan interrupted my muggy confusion. “Sure,” she said. “Um… but you have my car.”
“It broke down,” I said. “I had to call Hans for a ride.” Mr. Salvatore’s face twisted in an impatient frown. “You can just take a cab though, right?” Maybe she wouldn’t want to. Why didn’t I want her to? Mr. Salvatore was great! He was going to give her immortality or kill her trying. Wasn’t that swell of him? Why did I have a problem with that?
Another few seconds passed. “Yeah,” Megan said. “Okay. I’ll be right over.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll see you soon.”
Mr. Salvatore plucked the phone out of my hand and hung up before I could say anything else. “Hey!” I protested before I could remember that he was Mr. Salvatore, and Mr. Salvatore could take and do whatever he wanted.
Because Mr. Salvatore was perfect.
And a murderous, egomaniacal jerk.
And those weren’t mutually exclusive character traits at all.
And there was that sarcasm again. Weird.
Mr. Salvatore didn’t give my phone back. “Why aren’t you behaving?” he demanded.
I tilted my head and looked at him in confusion. I wanted my phone back so I could call Megan and tell her not to bother. The longer I sat around thinking Mr. Salvatore was perfect, the more he seemed like a self-serving jackass. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Your thoughts keep turning hostile,” he snapped. “You can’t hide it. You should be a servile, fawning thrall by now.”
I blinked. True, he had said it was hard for most mortals to resist the compulsion that came from a vampire’s bite. So much so that he’d been confident Megan couldn’t have held out against him for more than a few minutes. And been surprised that she’d resisted him at all. But he’d blamed that on love.
Did I love Megan back?
No – I would have known.
“Maybe it’s because I’m crazy,” I said. He had to know it was true – he was being hit with my paranoia. And dealing with it much less well than I was dealing with his sociopathic narcissism, in my opinion.
Mr. Salvatore swept to his feet. “No,” he snapped accusingly. “You’ve been fed on before.” He paced a few steps away and then spun toward me. “Who is your master?” he yelled. “Who dares poach in my city?”
I stared up at him, aghast. What the hell was he talking about? If I’d ever been bit before, I would remember it.
“You’re crazy,” I said. Somehow I’d stopped thinking he was perfect. Probably because I recognized paranoid delusion when I saw it, and I know delusional paranoiacs aren’t perfect because I am one myself.
I got up to my feet. Mr. Salvatore lunged forward and grabbed me by the throat. He lifted me one handed. “Who is it?” he snarled. “Who do you belong to?”
“No one,” I choked. My toes could barely brush the floor. “I’m not anyone’s.”
But then a thought struck me. Mr. Tophat. That lying prick! He’d said he hadn’t fed on me. He’d also said he wasn’t a poacher. Bullshit, both times. It had to be. Hans had said it took about a year of being fed on for a blood donor to overcome the infatuation inherent in being fed on – maybe that was because it took about a year’s worth of feedings for their soul to adapt enough; grow callouses enough, to be able to keep its identity intact while the rest of it was ripped to pieces and consumed.
How long had the fae been feeding on me?
Mr. Salvatore’s grip tightened. “Bullshit,” he hissed. “Tell me who.”
“Mr. Tophat did it,” I managed to say. “Fae. Poacher. Not his,” I blurted.
Mr. Salvatore’s eyes widened. His arm curled, and I found myself held tight against his chest. His other hand snapped over my mouth.
“Not another damn word,” Mr. Salvatore whispered. “They are called to their names – do you want to bring him here?” Mr. Salvatore’s head snapped up. He looked around as though expecting a sudden ambush. “Of course you do,” he accused. “You’re working with them! Oh, it all makes sense now.”
I made a muffled protest into the palm of his hand. Mr. Salvatore ignored it.
“That’s how you resisted me. That’s how Megan resisted me. You’ve both been fed on before. And the ambush you sprang on Hans and I! There are never that many fae in one place in the mortal world without special circumstances. You bitch. You’ve been spying on me for them, haven’t you?”
He started to laugh. I slumped weakly. I recognized the tone of that laugh.
So. I didn’t hurt. And I was over the whole ‘Mr. Salvatore is great’ thing. But Megan was on her way here, and I was helpless to do or even say anything about it.
Helpless, and in the clutches of a deranged vampire who’d just decided I was in league with his eternal enemies, the fae.
A deranged vampire who, from the way he was laughing, was right on the edge of a good old fashioned freak out.