Mr. Salvatore carried me to the bed and sat down. He didn’t loosen his grip or take his hand from my mouth. “I was suspicious, you know,” he said. “The fae are tricksters. Always engaged in subterfuge. I knew they had to have a spy nearby. But in my own company?” He laughed harshly. “That was a bit ambitious. Did you think I wouldn’t find you out?”
I didn’t reply. How could I? It wouldn’t matter – Mr. Salvatore was way off the deep end, now. I did my best to ignore him. I didn’t know when Megan would get here, but I needed to have a plan in place by then.
Unfortunately, my resources were limited and nothing was coming to mind. Weirdly, I wasn’t too anxious about that. I wasn’t as in love with Mr. Salvatore as Mr. Salvatore was anymore, but I still felt empty of myself. And a little woozy.
Mr. Salvatore kept babbling on about all of the things that made sense now that he was just making up whatever facts he wanted to support them. I wondered if he got that from me. I could still see in the dark from him. Listening to him felt weird. Jeez, was that how I sounded? I felt a little worse for Megan. It had to suck to put up with that all the time.
Also, I still hadn’t been able to come up with a plan.
“Poor Katie,” Mr. Salvatore was saying with derisive scorn. “She probably told Megan everything you could ever want to know. And you mentioned Emma while you were on the phone? My dear Emma was still enthralled, you know. She’ll be crushed when she finds out you were seducing her to get to me. Right up until I snap her scrawny neck for being a traitor.
I tried to protest. Where was Mr. Salvatore getting the idea that I was seducing anyone? I wasn’t some femme fatale! And Emma had come after me.
But it didn’t matter. My words were muffled to inarticulate nonsense by Mr. Salvatore’s hand – and then even that cut off when he tightened his grip on my throat. “Quiet,” he hissed.
I heard what he had in the following silence. It was the scratch of a key in the lock of my front door.
Why had I ever given Megan a key to my apartment?
Not that it would have mattered. Mr. Salvatore hadn’t locked the door.
Go away, I silently thought at Megan. It isn’t locked. She had to know that meant something was seriously wrong. I never leave the door unlocked. I usually have the chains and deadbolts done up, too, even when I’m expecting her to come over. Run away! I thought, along with a frantic please let her be psychic.
The handle turned. Why couldn’t she have been psychic? Sure, I would have died of embarrassment when it finally hit me that she’d always been privy to everything I’d ever thought around her – but if Mr. Salvatore had his way I wouldn’t be able to live with myself anyway. Also, I’d be dead. So really, this was a lose-lose-lose situation for me.
I struggled, trying to make some noise to warn Megan. Mr. Salvatore slid to his feet and clutched me tighter. My feet didn’t even reach the floor for stomping. He stepped back toward the kitchen, out of clear view of the door.
The front door opened and I saw Megan squinting into the darkness of my apartment. “Abby?” she asked hesitantly. From her voice I knew she knew something was wrong. So why wasn’t she making like the proverbial bat out of hell? “Abby, are you there?” she asked, and then she fumbled for the light switch on the wall.
The light snapped on. Megan took one glance around the room and gasped.
“Megan,” Mr. Salvatore said. “How good of you to join us. I missed you at the party.”
“I went,” Megan said shakily. “You weren’t there.”
Mr. Salvatore’s body stiffened angrily. His grip tightened. It seemed like he’d just figured out why I’d lied and said Megan was with me when I’d called Hans. Sucker. Too bad it hadn’t really worked.
“Close the door,” Mr. Salvatore said.
I stared at Megan as though I could tell her to run for it with my eyes. Megan gulped. She reached back and pushed the door closed.
“Good,” Mr. Salvatore hissed. “Now come here.”
Megan took a slow step forward. Why hadn’t she run? Mr. Salvatore was obviously bat-shit crazy. You could tell from his voice, even if the whole ‘obviously holding me in distress in my own home’ thing wasn’t enough. I was the crazy one – Megan should be panicking like a sane person and making a break for it so she could call the cops. Sure, in this case that was the response that would get a lot of people killed, but it was the sane one, too.
Megan took another step forward. Mr. Salvatore had hypnotized her. That had to be it. Maybe he still had a grip on her from when he’d tasted her blood last year. Shit. Megan approached Mr. Salvatore slowly, but without evident panic or fear. Her posture was relaxed. She favored him with the sort of smile that usually meant I was going to hear her dish about a salacious evening come morning. Her breathing was slow and steady; deep, chest-expanding breaths that – ew! – made parts of Mr. Salvatore that I would have preferred to remain in ignorance of twitch against my leg.
But I knew Megan. That wasn’t her flirty ‘hey, check out the cleavage on me’ breathing. That was the ‘calm down, Abby. In-two-three, out-two-three’ meditation breathing that Megan always walks me through when I start to hyperventilate around her.
My eyes widened. So: Mr. Salvatore didn’t have his hypno-vamp hooks into her. Megan was seriously freaked. But what the hell was she doing?
Megan stopped in front of us and didn’t even look at me. Her gaze had been locked with Mr. Salvatore’s the whole time. “I’m here,” Megan said in the tone of voice she usually used to mean ‘I’m eagerly willing.’ She reached up and caressed Mr. Salvatore’s cheek with the back of her fingers. “Let her go,” Megan said without breaking away from Mr. Salvatore’s gaze. “I’m the one you want, right? We can go somewhere else – somewhere private – and enjoy ourselves.”
I was nauseatingly aware of Mr. Salvatore’s reaction to Megan’s proposal. Why the fuck hadn’t I worn jeans tonight? The bulge in his pants rubbed against my legs as he lowered me. He let go of my throat, but kept his other hand over my mouth. He probably didn’t want me blurting out that he wanted more than ‘fun’ – as though Megan wasn’t smart enough to realize that already. I wanted to bolt as soon as my feet hit the floor, but I knew how strong Mr. Salvatore was. I’d probably just twist my own neck if I tried to run while his hand was clamped over my mouth. Megan still had a chance, though. I begged her to run with my eyes, but she still wasn’t looking at me.
“No, I think we’ll be keeping your friend with us,” Mr. Salvatore said hungrily. “For now.”
Megan pouted. “But three is a crowd,” she whined like the bimbo she wasn’t. She let her fingers trail behind Mr. Salvatore’s head, pulling him forward while she rose up on tip toe. I was squished awkwardly between them as her right hand – still holding her keys – joined her left behind Mr. Salvatore’s head so she could pull herself up against him. “I don’t like to share,” she said while her pouting lips approached his.
Mr. Salvatore groaned and tilted his mouth over Megan’s. I wanted to cry. She was trying to sacrifice herself for me – didn’t she know how fucking backward that was? I wasn’t worth it, damn it!
Megan’s body wriggled against mine as she kissed Mr. Salvatore in a way that seemed to involve a lot of parted lips, whimpering moans, and tongue. Mr. Salvatore looped his free hand around Megan’s waist and pulled her tighter against us. I tried not to let my eyes water in despair.
Finally Megan broke the kiss. Mr. Salvatore groaned rapturously. “That was…” he said as she let go of him and slipped back down to her heels – but he didn’t get to finish his thought. As soon as Megan was on solid footing again; when her hands slid back from behind his head, she unloaded the canister of pepper spray on her key ring directly into Mr. Salvatore’s face.
He howled in surprise and let go of Megan to scrub at his eyes. “Abby, run!” she screamed – and kicked him in the shin, then drove her heel into his foot.
Mr. Salvatore didn’t let go of me – but his hand slipped. It wasn’t enough for me to get away, but it was enough for me to bite him while I struggled. I get the number three with extra bacon at least twice a week. I take big fucking bites.
Mr. Salvatore screamed again and wrenched his hand out of my mouth. My teeth sawed at his flesh as he pulled free and I gagged on the taste of dead, ichorous blood. Megan shoved him away and grabbed my arm. The diffusion of pepper spray in the air made my eyes burn. I stumbled after her as Megan dragged me toward the door.
If Mr. Salvatore had been human, we might even have made it.
Mr. Salvatore appeared in front of us with supernatural speed. It was like he’d teleported between us and the door.
Megan staggered to a halt. “How-?” she gasped.
Mr. Salvatore responded by backhanding her with enough force to knock her over. “Bitch!” he yelled. I tried to catch her, but I was too disoriented and off balance – and she had been holding me, not the other way around.
Megan’s head struck the footboard of my bed with a sickeningly audible crack. She slumped bonelessly to the floor.
I shrieked Megan’s name and bolted for her side, but Mr. Salvatore teleported between us. He caught me by my neck and lifted me, one handed, off the ground. I clutched at his wrist and struggled to breathe. “Let me go,” I gasped. “You – she might be dead!”
Mr. Salvatore snickered. “Oh, no. Not yet. I still hear her heartbeat, Abigail. But she will be. I was going to give her immortality, but she just had to be difficult.” He shook his head. “She’s not a suitable consort. I see that now. So instead, I think I’ll just choke the defiance from her.” His grip tightened like a slowly wound vice. “Just like this.”
I tried to protest. To beg him to stop. No sound came out.
“Of course,” Mr. Salvatore said, “she is still a delicacy. I may spare her if I see surrender in her eyes before I see death. Perhaps, after a few years, she’ll learn proper submission. Or perhaps, when I see the life dimming in her eyes I’ll stop to drink the rest.” Mr. Salvatore laughed. “In either case, I no longer have a use for you.”
My struggles began to weaken – not that they’d been effective to begin with. My vision swam and grew fuzzy; my chest ached with my lungs’ agony. My limbs were tortured with pins and needles, as though they’d gone to sleep from being laid on wrong – only it was all of them and not just an arm or a leg.
The sensations – other than the being choked part –were familiar. I’ve held my breath until I’d passed out before. It’s what I started to do after Megan had noticed how chapped my hands always were from being scalded. I even felt the same despair. Not because I was panicked or freaking out or depressed, this time – but because I knew I wasn’t going to last much longer. Tears welled in my eyes and Mr. Salvatore’s psychotic grin swam before them. I’d done my best, but it didn’t matter. I’d failed Megan. The only time she’d ever needed me, and I’d failed her.
“Hey now,” a familiar voice suddenly said from behind Mr. Salvatore. “I do hate to interrupt, but I must protest. If anyone is going to make my little cherry cordial lose all hope, it really should be me. After all,” Mr. Tophat added, “I did call dibs.”