When I woke up I didn’t know where I was. I felt stiff and awkward, and my sleepy brain hurried to reassure me. Don’t worry, it mumbled. You’ve probably just been abducted by some of those cultists you saw at lunch or something. Go back to sleep. They’ll get you up in time for the sacrifice.
Of course, I immediately sat bolt upright, heart pounding. The room was dark, but I had no trouble seeing. Because I was a vampire. I was on the love seat in Hans’ guestroom, right where I’d fallen asleep. No, it hadn’t all been a dream. There were no bishounen making out. Just the realities that were rapidly coming back as I sluggishly woke up.
Emma made a sleepy noise, pulling my attention to her. That was when I realized that the change in her heart rate had been what awoke me, too.
Emma sat up. “Abby,” she said when she saw me. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I replied — rather lamely, in my estimation. “Did you have a good nap?” I winced at myself. I sounded so banal, but I really didn’t know what else to say.
“Mhmm,” Emma replied. Then she yawned. “I feel exhausted, but I know I’m not,” she added with a tiny grimace.
“Sorry,” I said. “Do you… want to try to go back to sleep anyway?” I asked. Linda had said that we should pamper Emma, but I really didn’t know how to go about that. “Or is there something else you’d like to do?” What were good girlfriend activities? “We could watch another movie, or read something, or play games, or …something.”
Emma smiled and swung her legs out of bed. She stifled another yawn, and then got up. She’d napped in her clothes, which were now quite rumpled. She’d managed to get bed head, too. It was really cute. “I dunno,” she said as she walked over. “If I were at home I’d probably be browsing the web or watching something on streaming video. But I’m not really feeling like being solitary right now, you know?” She started to sit on the end of the love seat, and I hastily pulled my knees up against my chest to make room for her.
Emma leaned over along the back of the love seat and managed to wedge herself between myself and it. One of her arms slipped behind my back while the other stretched diagonally across my torso. I had to wriggle a bit to accommodate her, and my legs ended up stretched out over her lap. “Cuddling is nice though,” Emma observed. She laid her head against my chest and proceeded to snuggle. “How about you, Abby? What would you do if you weren’t here right now?”
“Um,” I stammered. I wondered if Emma was as aware of my heart doing flip flops as I was. Probably, I decided — her ear was pressed right up against it. At least she wasn’t looking up at me. I could feel the heat coming off my cheeks as I tried (and failed) not to stare down her top.
Normally a tantalizing sight like that would have led me to extrapolate some profoundly inappropriate scenario. Probably where Emma wound up topless, and somehow bound or trapped while some predatory individual did horrible things to her that made her moan in shameful ecstasy.
“Abby?” Emma asked, yanking me out of a fantasy about her, an unhealthy amount of rope, a blindfold and a far more sinister cousin of Hans.
“Oh, um, I guess most evenings I’d be reading,” I said. “That or talking with Megan.” I tried not to fidget, since I didn’t want to disturb Emma’s comfort. “Sometimes we’d hang out with Fumiko, too.”
Emma nodded. “I met Fumiko once, you know,” she said. “Katie dragged me out to Club Luminescence a couple of times after Salvatore had left. Fumiko was there with Megan. I remember that, but I wasn’t really paying attention to anything at the time, so I don’t remember much about her. I don’t think she came back after that one time.” She squirmed a little and looked up at me. “So what sort of things do you read?”
“Um,” I said again. Yay, eloquence! I managed to keep my eyes on hers, though, so that was something. “Mostly manga. You know, imported Japanese comics. I translated them for my day job. I guess I’ll have to stop that now… having a day job, I mean.”
Emma pouted, but didn’t contradict me on that. Instead she pulled herself up a little more. “I know you’ll figure out something,” she said stoutly.
“Yeah,” I agreed even though I wasn’t so sure. I forced a laugh. “But let’s not dwell on it now. We’re supposed to keep you happy, missy, so what can I do to facilitate that?”
Emma grinned. She laid down against me again and sighed contentedly. “Oh, I don’t know. What are you thinking about?” she asked offhandedly.
I choked. In my head, Sinister Hans treated me to a quick repeat performance. “Nothing!” I gasped. “Why would you think I was thinking anything interesting?”
Emma laughed. “Because I had to prod you a little to get you to start talking,” she said. “So spill.”
I scrambled for something innocent to say. Nothing came to mind, so I was forced to pretend that I hadn’t been thinking about anything freaky at all despite not having anything else to tell her about. So I twisted around, letting Emma slip into the spot on the love seat that I had occupied and turning so that I straddled her hips and was facing down toward her while she lay on her back.
“I was thinking about you,” I admitted. I propped myself up with one arm, and used my other hand to reach up and brush the hair out of Emma’s face. Remember: you’re the aggressive one, Abby. Confidence is something you can fake. I tried to keep my voice sultry instead of embarrassed. “And not in a very proper way, either.” Um, but don’t overdo it, okay? Now I was really embarrassed. I covered it up by ducking close and nibbling Emma’s ear, so she couldn’t see my face. She let out a sigh of pleasure. “Tell me,” I whispered in response, “how do you feel about rope?” Too much! Too much fake confidence!
Emma squirmed under me, and I peppered her neck with kisses. “Could be fun,” she said breathily. I checked my teeth quickly with my tongue, which led to it brushing Emma’s skin. No points, I was relieved to note. I’d gotten worried when I’d realized where I’d been kissing.
“I’ll add it to the list, then,” my autopilot purred.
“List?” Emma sounded both surprised and intrigued. “What else do you have in mind?”
I tried to come up with something suitable saucy but not too freakish, but apparently my autopilot was having too much fun with honesty. “Oh, nothing really. I just meant my ever growing list of necessities. There’s still tons of stuff I have to get or replace, you know?”
“Oh,” said Emma. She sounded disappointed, and I didn’t want that.
“Not that I haven’t had some ideas of horrifically naughty things to do with you,” I blurted despite not wanting to admit that, either. “They just aren’t all terribly practical.”
“Oh,” Emma said again. I hastened to change the topic.
“So, seriously, is there something you’d like to do?” I asked. “Other than cuddles, I mean? Not that cuddles aren’t nice. But I want to make sure I’ve taken good care of you before I go over to Megan’s, you know.”
“You’re going over to Megan’s?” Emma asked. “I thought we had a date tonight.” I couldn’t tell if her light tone of voice was meant to be teasing, or to cover up that she was upset I hadn’t been thinking about that.
“I know,” I said hastily. “I’ve been thinking about that. But with your aura damaged, and the fae acting all weird and aggressive, I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to take you out in the open.” I sat up, worried that she would take it badly that I was being unilateral about this. I looked down at her while she looked up at me. “I… I wouldn’t take it well if anything bad happened to you, Emma,” I said. The words felt flat. Like they fell far short of reality. I swallowed. “I’m sorry that I’m being unilateral about this, but I’ve been taking too many stupid risks. And those risks always seem worse for everyone else. So we can still have our date, but I want it to be when you’re recovered.”
Emma chewed on her lip. I wondered what was going on in her head. Then I got mad at myself for wondering it. The only way for me to really know would be for me to bite her, and hell no was I doing that. “Okay,” she said. I breathed a mental sigh of relief. I guessed that she was going along with it because all that aura damage was keeping her from getting upset over how I was riding roughshod over her autonomy as a human being. “But I’m still going to insist on that date tonight,” she added.
I froze in dismay. Shit shit shit, I thought. I was supposed to pamper her, but I had to keep her safe and apparently those options were diametrically opposed.
Emma started to squirm out from under me. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s find out if Hans has ice cream in the freezer, and let him know we’re taking over the back deck until sunset.”
I sat back and blinked a couple of times. Oh. We were having our date here. See, no need to panic. Emma was pretty quick on her feet, I had to give her that. And I remembered from my tour of the house that the back deck was roofed and had been walled in, with thick shutters over all of the windows. So it should be safe enough, even before sunset.
Emma managed to get the rest of the way out from under me and got up to go find Hans. I twisted around to watch her fumble her way out of the dark bedroom.
“Okay,” I said — but Emma was already in the hallway, and I was talking to myself. “Get it together, Abby,” I said sternly. I was not going to let myself panic and fall apart again tonight. Especially not on Emma. She needed my support, and she’d already given far too much of herself to me.
I shook my head to dismiss that thought. I didn’t need to get myself depressed before my stay-at-home date with Emma! I needed to be chipper and cheerful, for her sake if nothing else. And, hey: we were having our date at home, so I wasn’t going to panic and make us leave a restaurant or anything. That was good, right? I got up and followed after Emma.
As soon as I stood, the stiffness that had plagued me from sleeping on the love seat disappeared. Or maybe it had disappeared while I was shifting around and talking with Emma, and I only noticed it was gone when I stood up without having to stretch. My face didn’t feel puffy or achy, either. I chalked all that up as a win for vampire healing.
Emma hadn’t waited for me in the hallway, but had started for the stairs instead. I heard her calling for Hans as she bounced down them. Exhausted or not, she was chipper, and I meant to keep her that way. Think happy thoughts, I told myself sternly. I wished I could ask Megan for some advice. I tried to focus on what she’d told me that night at Club Luminescence, since it was the closest I’d get. Emma doesn’t seem like it, but she’s fragile. Don’t freak out on her. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t be comfortable doing with Hans, and you’ll be okay.
When I got to the kitchen, Hans had joined Emma. He was rooting through the freezer while she tried to peer at its contents around him. Finally, Hans fished out a tub of ice cream and sat it on the counter. “What kind would you like?” he asked when he saw me. “It seems we have chocolate, strawberry, cookie dough, butter pecan and vanilla.”
I blinked. Either Mr. Salvatore or one of his donors had a serious sweet tooth. “Vanilla,” I said.
Emma scrunched up her nose. “Really? Just vanilla? I’m having chocolate. With hot fudge,” she added — but her smile kept any of the sting out of her disapproval.
“I like vanilla,” I said defensively.
“Reeeeeeeeally?” Emma drawled out. “Because that’s not what you said earlier.”
I tried to recall when we had ever discussed preferred ice creams. It took me a second to realize she was referring to the comments about rope. I started blushing hard.
Emma smothered a giggle, which caused Hans to turn around and see what he’d missed. “There’s just something about making a vampire blush,” Emma told him. “It’s irresistible.”
Hans glanced at me and my bright red face, and grinned himself. “Point,” he agreed. “And I may recall a few less than vanilla moments, myself.”
I gawked at him. Betrayal! “Hans!” I squawked. One of our first rules had been that whatever happened in private stayed in private! Admittedly, he wasn’t exactly giving out details, but come on! It didn’t take unlimited imagination to guess what he was getting at. “What happens in private stays in private,” I scolded him. “You can’t just flout the rules like that, or someone’s going to have to call you on it.”
“Uh-oh,” Emma said. She poked Hans in the side. “Sounds like someone’s going to get punished later.”
Hans’ eyes skewed sideways toward Emma, then back to me. “Like I said,” he replied with mock propriety, “I think vanilla might not actually be her favorite.”
I bit my lips together and tried to keep my autopilot from getting me into more trouble. It didn’t work. “I’m sorry,” I blurted after a second. “I thought we were talking about ice cream.”
“Ohhhh,” Emma said — clearly pretending that she hadn’t realized where this conversation had started. “In that case, vanilla is a nice treat sometimes.” She winked. “Though I still prefer chocolate.”
Hans chuckled and went back to preparing some bowls of ice cream. I tried to keep my cool and not be all worked up over their teasing. That didn’t work, either. I stepped forward and poked Emma about the same way she’d poked Hans. “You’re the one who’s tempting fate,” I accused. “Teasing a vampire really isn’t wise, whether she blushes or not.”
Emma laughed and wrapped her arms around me. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know I shouldn’t tease. It’s just so hard not to. Especially when you look so cute when you blush.”
And of course I had to blush more in response to that. Even worse: my autopilot has never cared about how embarrassed I am. “Well, as long as you’re aware of the risk, I suppose it’s okay.”
Emma’s eyebrows raised. “Oooo, what’s the risk?”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “That one of these days when you’re all tied up and helpless I’m going to spank you until your butt’s as red as my face,” my autopilot offered.
Emma bit her lip and hunched down in mock submission. “Eep!” she cried. “Will I be needing a safe word, Abby?
My eyes went wide. How the hell did we go from what kind of ice cream I like to whether or not Emma needs a safe word? I could feel my ears radiating as much heat as my cheeks. “No!” I squawked. “I’m not into… I mean, I am, but I don’t want to… I won’t… I…”
Hans rescued me from endlessly babbling by turning around from the counter and saying: “Dune buggy.”
I gawked at him, grateful for the distraction but terribly confused. “Dune buggy?” I asked.
“That’s my safe word,” Hans said. “Sorry, I just thought that if we were having this conversation I may as well share, too.”
I started to feel dizzy. Hans has a safe word? Okay: that went in the ‘freak out later’ queue. “You have a safe word?!” I blurted. Okay, or maybe I can freak out about it now.
Hans shrugged. “It came up once with an ex,” he said.
Of course Hans had a safe word, I yelled at myself. When you raked your nails down his back he’d been proud of having moved you to mark him.
Emma let go of me with one arm and twisted about so that she was standing next to me, facing Hans. “I prefer to use something that is guaranteed to put a halt to the mood if I start screaming it,” she said matter of factly. “Like ‘snot bubbles’ or ‘banana hammock’.”
Hans pursed his lips and nodded. “Queef,” he suggested, which made Emma burst out laughing.
I fidgeted slightly. Not for the first time, I realized that Hans and Emma made a much better match for each other than either did for me. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be left out of whatever this triangle was. “I don’t have one,” I said. Weirdly, I think I sounded morose. “It’s never come up.”
“You’re that kinky, huh?” Emma asked. I abruptly turned scarlet again.
“No!” I yelped. “I mean… I’ve never been in a relationship before. Kinky or otherwise. You two know that!”
Emma hugged me from the side and kissed my cheek. “It’s okay,” she hastened to assure me. “I know; I’m teasing. I’m sorry. Usually I’m not so… this,” she added. She looked at Hans and then at me. “I feel like I have emotional ADD,” she added. “And whenever I get an impulse I just blurt it out. Don’t be upset, please. I’ll be better.”
I wanted to kick myself: Emma’s cheerful teasing had suddenly and completely collapsed. By the time she promised to be better she sounded on the verge of tears.
“Hey, no, wait,” I protested. “I’m not upset,” I said. “I’m just…” I floundered for a word. “Floundering,” I said. “I know you’re teasing. And it’s fun and nice and I shouldn’t be so defensive. I just don’t know how else to react yet. But you’re fine, Emma.”
Emma blinked moisture from her eyes. She started to brighten almost immediately. “Really?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“Oh, good,” she breathed. Then she seemed to jerk back. She was staring at something behind me; when I followed her gaze, I saw it was the kitchen clock. Four thirty-eight.
“Then we should stop yammering and start our date,” Emma declared. “It’s going to be sunset soon, and I know you want to check on Megan.” She took three quick steps toward the hallway door, and then paused to glance over her shoulder. “Although, if you need a suggestion…? I have it on pretty good authority that if I tease you too much, the penalty reaction is supposed to be a spanking.”
I stared at her. Is she saying I actually should…? I felt slightly stunned. I opened my mouth and closed it again.
Then Emma wiggled her butt at me.
Despite myself, I took a step toward her. It must have seemed menacing, because she yelped and bolted into the hallway. My emotions roiled, but the internal struggle only took a second. Even though I wasn’t feeling dead, whatever dark and evil part of me comes up with most of my dark and evil fantasies reacted. When prey runs, a predator gives chase.
I dashed off in pursuit.