The master bedroom, when we got to it, was clearly Mr. Salvatore’s room. It was meticulously organized, with solid wooden furniture and a muted color scheme. It had a desk, a closet, a ruddy carpet, and a magnificent four poster bed with a hefty ornamental travel chest in front. There was also a second door, which Hans said went to Mr. Salvatore’s study. Supposedly there was a trap door to the attic in there, too, but I didn’t go investigate.
“I am not sleeping here,” I told Hans flatly. This might be Hans’ house, now, but this was Mr. Salvatore’s room. It gave me the heebie jeebies and made my skin tingle the way it had when I’d first entered the house. Mr. Salvatore hadn’t liked me, I realized, and whatever magic there was that made vampires need to be invited into houses wasn’t going to let me be in any room that thought of itself as his.
I got out of there, fast, and breathed a big sigh of relief in the hallway. “I’m sorry,” I told Hans. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad without all of his stuff – but that room is Mr. Salvatore’s, and he wouldn’t want me in there.”
“Oh,” Hans said in abrupt understanding. “You can use mine, then, and after I move Salvatore’s things to storage we can see if that changes.”
I nodded, thankful that Hans didn’t think I was being weird or picky or anything like that. I looked at Hans and smiled. It was kind of amazing how quickly I was getting used to him. It probably helped that since he was a werewolf he was weird enough that I didn’t spend quite as much time wondering how weird he thought I was. He’d already trumped me there a time or two.
Also, he still hadn’t put on a new shirt. And while I had to look pathetically dorky with one of his tee-shirts hanging off of me almost to the hem of my skirt, he looked just fine without one. How could I not smile? I mean: yum. It was still a little disconcerting, though. I was pretty sure that if it weren’t for how often and readily he’d backed off when I asked him to, I’d still be going into panic mode whenever he came close to me.
The other upstairs room was the master bath. It was a gorgeous room decorated in light blues and sea greens, with a tile floor, pristine fixtures, and an actual inset tub big enough for two or three people installed under the shower. There were plenty of towels and wash cloths stacked on a shelf next to the tub, and a linen closet that contained several bath robes and other sundries.
I realized that with all of Mr. Salvatore’s donors, he was probably used to having guests over and kept his house stocked accordingly. I wondered if one of those robes was Emma’s. Maybe I could borrow it.
The downstairs hallway was a long, straight hall that ran the length of the house. On one end it exited onto a roofed deck with a hammock strung across one end and a hot tub sitting on the other. The deck had a half wall and tall windows all around it, almost like a greenhouse, but those had closed blinds and curtains that didn’t let in any sun.
I was starting to think Mr. Salvatore was more of a hedonist than I’d realized. Either that or he’d wanted his place to be like a vacation house for his donors – one where the vacationers paid in blood.
I still expected to find chains and whips in the basement.
The downstairs hall also connected to the front room and the kitchen on one side, and a small bathroom – and the stairs to the basement – on the other.
When we went back into the front room and I actually took a moment to look around, I saw that it was part show room and part dining room. It was much more cluttered than the other rooms, with shelves and cabinets around all the walls.
Those were laden down with knick knacks and bric-a-brac, and I realized I was looking at hundreds of years’ worth of souvenirs and memories. And since they all fit in one room, each had to correspond to something that had been deeply important to Mr. Salvatore.
It was more than a little nerve wracking. I did my best not to look at any of it, and tried even harder to not think about what I’d end up collecting over the next few hundred years. I was starting with a burned down slate. Everything I owned from here on out would be something I’d gotten after my death.
I did pick up my purse. And Hans picked up his two shirts, and the tattered remainders of the clothing we’d torn off of each other. That was a little embarrassing.
In addition to the door outside and the door to the hall, there was a third door in the front room. I assumed it led to the kitchen, but before Hans could lead me through it my phone rang. I pulled it out and stared at the number.
“If you need to get that, feel free,” Hans said. “The tour will keep,” he assured me. But then he must have noticed something on my face, because his voice dropped and turned more serious. “Abigail?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”
I sent the call to voicemail. “It’s Megan,” I said, and I sat down at the table. Hans sat down across from me.
Hans took my hand. “I don’t doubt that she’s worried about you,” he said. “Would you like to call her back? I can give you your privacy.”
I shook my head. This was something I was going to have to deal with eventually – and until I did it was going to keep coming up, but I had no idea how to face it. I looked up at Hans. As always when I was upset around him I saw his sympathy and concern – and the respect that I’d never actually earned. The respect that kept him from prying and digging at my issues.
“Hans,” I asked him slowly, “have you ever done anything you’ve regretted? Because of your curse, I mean?”
Hans nodded slowly. “More than a few times,” he admitted. “And at times it is crushingly difficult to remember not to repeat those mistakes. But you learn to, regardless.”
I frowned at our hands. I hadn’t learned to do anything yet. When I’d died – this morning! – I’d been a socially maladjusted, skittishly paranoid, over-imaginative freak. But I’d known I was too introverted to have an impact on the world.
Now? I was that same introverted, paranoid, asocial, delusional freak – but now I had supernatural powers, immortality, and an addiction to blood that could turn me into a psychopath if it wasn’t fed. And I was really afraid of what kind of person that made me. Or what kind of person it would make me become.
“When I was fighting with… with Mr. Salvatore,” I said, “after he’d killed me, I did something I shouldn’t have.” I could feel the tension winding up in my gut as I confessed, but I couldn’t stop. I knew this was going to get me locked up, probably in the same rehab center that Mr. Salvatore had checked himself into, but I didn’t care. I needed help.
Hans sat patiently. His eyes didn’t betray speculation or judgment – he was just waiting; giving me my own time to get it out.
I took a deep breath. “I’d pulled down the curtains,” I said, “and let in the sun. And it was burning Mr. Salvatore,” I managed to push out, “but it was burning me, too.” I swallowed. “And Megan….”
I blinked my eyes against tears. I didn’t even want to think about it. I wanted to pull my hand away from Hans and flee. I bit my lip instead. I curled my other hand into a fist under the table and felt my nails bite into my palm, and – No.
No. I had to stop that. When I’d been alive I’d used physical pain to distract myself from my fragmented emotions and shattering anxiety. But Mr. Salvatore had used it to drain himself of life. To bring his hunger to the fore. To let his soul lapse and his curse take over. And I was a vampire now, too. If I didn’t learn to deal with my shit in a healthier way I wouldn’t just be hurting myself – I’d be turning myself into a monster and then turning it loose on everyone else.
I uncurled my fingers and put my palm on the table. I pushed that hand toward Hans so he could claim it along with my other and hold them, and be comforting – and stop me from being so stupid.
“Megan was bleeding,” I said. “Mr. Salvatore had backhanded her, and she had scratches on her cheek.” I remembered them. Their shape. The redness on her otherwise pale skin. The smear of dried blood; the way they’d tasted when I licked them. God, the taste! “I licked her,” I said. “While she was unconscious. I just took her blood without even giving her the chance to say no.”
Hans’ hands tightened slightly around mine. “You did what you had to do in order to survive,” he said softly. “You can’t be faulted for that. And if she’d been concussed or otherwise injured, you may even have saved her.”
“No,” I said. I knew all that. A vampire’s powers – including healing – were sympathetic; shared with the mortal who gave their blood. I’d healed Hans of his stab wounds when I’d drank his blood, and those had come from Mr. Salvatore’s silver knife. “You don’t understand. I… I wanted to kill her.” It had been just for a single, horrifying instant, but I’d wanted to slit Megan’s jugular and lap up every drop that pumped out of her veins.
When Mr. Salvatore had intended to turn Megan, he’d kept me alive to feed to her. He’d joked about newborn vampires being messy, greedy eaters. But I knew first hand why that hadn’t really been a joke. I was a murderer. Even if I hadn’t killed anyone yet, I was a murderer waiting to happen. All it would take was a moment’s hunger. A single lapse. And I’d be willing to kill anyone. Even Megan. Even my best friend.
“I’m a monster,” I wailed. The exhilaration of surviving last night’s nightmare had fallen away like a rotted façade, revealing a dark and gruesome truth beneath. I couldn’t stop crying. Hans swept to my side and gathered me against himself. His arms closed around me protectively; he hugged me crushingly close. But there was nothing out there to protect me from.
“A monster,” I sobbed into Hans’ chest. “I’m a monster.”