My head was reeling. This couldn’t be happening. What was happening? How?!
My back was seared with pain – pain and sunlight. I was dimly aware that while I’d been next to the front door, I’d been in the shade. I hadn’t started to hurt until I’d gone to check on Megan.
Mr. Salvatore kept laughing. Had he… had he killed me? And then brought me back? Why would he – when could he have done that? He’d been fighting Mr. Tophat! I’d healed from the stab wound because Mr. Salvatore had bitten me and our life-forces had mingled, and I’d gained some of his supernatural powers when he’d gained my life. I hadn’t died! I wasn’t undead! I was alive!
I was frantic. I should have been having a panic attack, but I wasn’t hyperventilating.
In fact, I wasn’t even breathing.
My heart stopped. No, my heart hadn’t been beating to begin with, and I hadn’t noticed. “Oh no,” I moaned. “God no.” No no no no no no! But it was true, and Mr. Salvatore wouldn’t stop laughing.
Yes, he’d bitten me.
But then I’d bitten him back. I’d tasted blood when he’d torn his hand away. It had been disgusting – cold, thick; congealing.
Hans had told me that a vampire turned people by sharing blood. First drinking it to join their life forces; then giving it back with the curse infusing it. I had a nightmarish flashback to middle school health class. When it came to diseases that were spread by blood, a drop was all it took. I’d been cursed.
But Hans had also said that for the curse to take root, the infected victim had to die. So, Mr. Salvatore had killed me.
I was dead.
No wonder Mr. Tophat had been so surprised to see me. No wonder I’d woken up and still been able to see in the dark; no wonder the sun felt so fucking hot on my back – hotter than the most scalding shower I’d ever taken.
But I had taken them. Mr. Salvatore wasn’t the only one who could cope with pain. If he thought I was going to keel over and die again so he could take Megan just because of a little fifth degree sunburn, he had another thing fucking coming.
Especially since I was the one with the ‘get to live, free’ card.
I glanced at Megan. That feeling I’d shied away from before? I knew what it was now. Hunger. Thirst. Need.
I licked my lips and bared my fangs at Mr. Salvatore. Older vampires were more vulnerable to the sun. I was a very young vampire. How much would I need to take in order to withstand the light of day?
Honestly: I didn’t really care. I was dimly aware that I should be horrified with myself, but I couldn’t begin to fathom why. I wasn’t horrified or ashamed or anything stupid like that – I was just hungry.
And I had Megan.
“You know what? I’ll pass,” I told Mr. Salvatore. “Enjoy hell without me.”
Then I leaned down over Megan and licked the blood from her cheek. It tasted… incredible. Like love and excitement and joy and laughter and bliss and all the things that make life worth living. I moaned. I couldn’t say if it was better than sex, but it was better than erotica and silicone wrapped around a motor with double A batteries.
I wanted to slit Megan’s throat right there and drink it all. If I’d had a knife I would have. I licked the scratches on her cheek again. I could probably just tear her throat out. That would work.
Mr. Salvatore went ape-shit.
“No!” He shrieked as he launched himself toward us.
My breath caught as I looked up. My heart thundered once and I was seized with shame – I’d just licked my best friend’s face! What the – but shame was torn aside by terror.
Mr. Salvatore staggered like the sun’s rays had physically struck him. Smoke billowed off of him and his hair ignited as he lurched forward. He was a monster of flames and fangs and hate.
I screamed and threw myself down over Megan. To protect her; to gather her up. Mr. Salvatore screamed as well, venting primal pain and rage. He surged forward.
Then thunder boomed and glass shattered behind me. Mr. Salvatore flipped over in midstride and blood sprayed out a ruined hole in his shoulder. Something punched across the kitchen and through my refrigerator door behind him.
I twisted around.
Hans stood outside my glass patio doors. He was hunched with pain and his shirt was soaked in blood – and he was aiming a sleek, vicious shotgun that practically screamed ‘military issue’ through the shattered glass door. When Mr. Salvatore didn’t get back up Hans reversed the gun and used its butt to smash out enough of the broken glass for him to step through. He stumbled into my burning apartment, gun again at the ready.
I gaped at him, but Hans didn’t even look at me until he’d staggered past my bed and put two more slugs into Mr. Salvatore’s immobile, burning corpse. Then Hans turned to me.
I stared at him in horrified awe. Horror, because Hans was obviously seriously hurt. Awe, because my boyfriend was a fucking badass. Maybe it was just the heat of the moment and the suddenness of his appearance, but I decided then and there that if I ever got over my irrational fear of sex then the first thing I was going to do was screw his brains out.
“Come on!” Hans shouted over the growing roar of the fire. Those shotgun blasts had reduced Mr. Salvatore to a bloody mess, and everywhere that blood had splattered it was acting like self-combusting gasoline.
I pulled myself together and scrambled off of Megan. Hans shouldered the shotgun and together we hauled Megan out through the destroyed patio door. Hans dropped her in the flower bed. I shouldered Megan’s weight and crouched down, lowering her gently while Hans turned and staggered back into the smoking conflagration that had replaced my home.
I let him go. The sun beat down on me viciously – it felt hotter than the flames consuming my apartment. I didn’t care.
I cradled Megan. Her chest moved slowly – she was still alive. I sat in the flowerbox and clutched her to myself. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.
I was dead.
But Megan was alive.
I buried my face against her. I kissed her cheek. I… I licked it again. I didn’t mean to! I couldn’t help it.
The taste was…
The sun’s malice receded. The cuts on Megan’s cheek closed. She coughed. I started to cry.
Megan’s eyes fluttered open. “Abby?” she whispered.
“I’m here,” I said. “I’m here.”
Megan smiled at me. I could feel her love. Pure. Unreserved. She breathed out and her eyes fluttered shut again. Sleeping. Or unconscious. Or some jumble of the two. I choked back a laugh. Sleep seemed like a wonderful idea.
I laid Megan down gently, letting her get what rest she could. I stood as Hans came staggering out of my apartment again. This time he was burdened by a large bundle – something wrapped up in the charred, smoking ruin of my mom’s quilt. Mr. Salvatore’s remains? I swallowed.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
Hans shook his head. He hauled the quilt-shrouded corpse to his car, then dropped it unceremoniously on the ground. He popped open the back and chucked in his shotgun. Then, cursing under his breath in that language I still didn’t know, he started wrestling Mr. Salvatore’s corpse in on top.
I swallowed again. Then I stooped down, lifted Megan by her underarms, and dragged her out into the parking lot, further away from the bonfire. Smoke was billowing out of my apartment and in the distance I could hear approaching sirens – but it didn’t matter how quickly the fire trucks arrived. I knew my apartment was a lost cause already.
Megan frowned and groaned, but didn’t wake up. She was surprisingly light – or maybe I was surprisingly strong.
I didn’t want to think about that.
Once we were a safe distance – beside Hans’ Hummer – I put Megan down again. I turned toward Hans. He was sitting on the ground with his eyes closed, leaning back against his car and breathing heavily.
I knelt in front of him. “Are you okay?” I asked quietly.
Hans popped an eye open to look at me. He forced himself to smile. It looked genuine despite the effort it required. “It was a silver knife,” he said, “but I’ll survive. I’m just grateful you’re safe. And Megan?”
I nodded. Megan would be fine. Symbiotic vampire healing for the win.
“Good,” Hans said. He leaned back against his car. “I’m glad. After I got away from the goblins I called the insurance company and told them my nephew had gone joyriding; got them to turn on the GPS and tell me where Salvatore had taken you. But I couldn’t get a cab while looking like this.” He chuckled weakly. “Not one that wouldn’t go straight to the hospital or the cops, anyway. I had to leg it.”
Hans looked at me, and his normally cheerful eyes were darkly serious. “I was afraid I wouldn’t make it in time,” he said.
I swallowed. Again. Hans was alive. Megan was alive. Mr. Salvatore was a charcoal briquette. Why was I acting so damn nervous? And why was the sun so….
Oh. I wasn’t nervous. I was parched.
I licked my lips unconsciously, and inadvertently nicked my tongue on my fangs. I barely felt it, though.
“You didn’t,” I said.
Hans looked at me in confusion and I sighed. He smelled so damn good.
“Make it,” I clarified. “You didn’t. And neither did I.”
Hans’ eyes widened in surprise – or maybe horror. Had he seen my fangs? I didn’t really care. I’d held myself back for as long as I could.
I lunged. My fangs sank into Hans’ shoulder, effortlessly piercing his shirt and skin and flesh.
I whimpered in delight. Hans tasted as good as he smelled. His arms wrapped around me, but he didn’t try to pry me off of himself. I closed my eyes and blissfully drank. Maybe this would mend those silver knife wounds, like it had Megan’s scratches and possible concussion. Wouldn’t that be nice? I smiled to myself and sucked harder at Hans’ shoulder.
Hans was alive. Megan was alive. Mr. Salvatore was a charcoal briquette, and I was undead.
On the balance, I decided while Hans held me close and his life filled my veins, this was shaping up to be a good year.
End of Book 1