The Director. My mind seemed to speed up, or the world slowed down — maybe I was unconsciously playing with time to give my thoughts room to catch up with Hans’ words. I brought the phone to my ear and made sure reality was playing by its rules instead of mine before I answered. “I’m on my way.” That was all that I took the time to say. Anything else would be superfluous: a waste of time that could be spent getting home. I hung up.
“Well now, that sounded important,” Daniel observed.
I nodded. “The Director is here. I have to go.”
He winced. “Don’t linger on my account, and I hope you’re not in any trouble.”
So do I. “I shouldn’t be,” I said. “I think your idea of jailing the fae that won’t submit to my rules probably just saved me from having to turn myself in.” I smiled a little lopsidedly. “I’ve got to run, anyway. Thank you again, Daniel.”
Daniel chuckled and shook his head. “Go. And stop by again sometime and let me know how it turned out, got it?”
I nodded again. Then I froze time — a vampire power that I was becoming more and more comfortable with — turned, and ran.
Hans’ house wasn’t far from the park, so I didn’t have to run far. Even so, I was exhilarated with relief and overflowing with energy. Running just seemed right. When I got to our block I let time spin back up, but I kept running just for the joy of it. Another vampire bonus: Even though I’ve never been particularly physically fit, I didn’t get tired any more, or out of breath, or feel the burn of physical exhaustion from exertion.
Somehow it was much easier to look at the silver linings draped around my new condition as an undead uber-monster now that I wasn’t as worried about having to hurt my friends — no, I could be honest: my lovers — just to live.
I slowed to a walk as I neared the house and tried to smooth down my hair. It was an instinctual, meaningless effort since I’ve never been able to get it to lay flat anyway, but I didn’t want to make a bad impression. I was also starting to get a little nervous.
No, to be honest: I was starting to get really nervous.
I tried to write it off as the approaching sunrise — I knew it couldn’t be more than an hour or two away. Even so, I knew there was more to it than that. I’d been anticipating (or rather, dreading) the Director’s arrival since about the time I’d found out it was going to eventually happen. It didn’t help that I could see his car while I was walking down the block. Now, I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about cars, but the Director’s looked expensive. It was all black, with heavily tinted windows and a hood ornament of some sort: a silver three-pointed star in a circle.
It looked about like what I’d expect a mob boss to drive.
Do mob bosses drive? Okay, maybe it looked like what I’d expect a mob boss’s driver to drive. Whatever: its looming presence in Hans’ driveway didn’t reassure me. Especially since Hans had told me that supernaturals were all over in the government and military — so it made perfectly good sense to figure that they were topping out organized crime, too. Come to think of it, I’d never explicitly asked Hans about his Viking mafia connections, had I?
Best not to, I decided. I didn’t think concrete shoes would be any more comfortable than my high heels had been.
I shivered and pulled my cloak tighter around myself. Even though I had healed, the bottom half of my blouse was still a mess of bloody tatters from Pipsqueak’s feet clawing at me. That, I was pretty sure, would have given a bad impression. I really didn’t want the Grandfather of Vampires to get the wrong impression of me. And I had no idea if it would be: hmm, violent. Throw her onto the front lines, or hmm, blood and a belly shirt. Throw her in bed. In either case: eep.
I listened closely as I approached the house. I could hear Hans waiting for me inside. His breathing was steady, but his heartbeat betrayed a little anxiety. My steps quickened: I couldn’t wait to put his mind at ease. The full moon wasn’t far off, but I wouldn’t need to take any more from him before then. Maybe not ever, if Daniel’s idea worked out. Could I intimidate fae into living according to my rules? Could I come up with ways for them to feed that were acceptable, if I did? I wasn’t sure. I really didn’t know about the first one — but I hoped the second was possible, for Megan’s sake if nothing else.
Actually, that was an idea. Even if I couldn’t get any of the other fae who owed me to agree to be my donors — even if I had to lock up the lot of them! — as long as we could find a morally acceptable way for Megan to take in life force, I knew she would share it with me.
Best friends are like that.
At the door to Hans’ house I took a moment to steel myself. It’s going to be okay, I reminded myself. You’ve got nothing but good news, and nothing to worry about. So what if introductions were hell? I’d manage. I’d already faced down a master vampire, witches, hordes of fae, my mom, and even hunted down a goblin of my own volition! How much worse could a simple conversation with one more vampire be?
I really shouldn’t have wondered that. My anxiety loves questions like that.
I pushed open the front door and stepped inside.
The first person I saw was Hans. I knew I lit up at the sight of him, but I just couldn’t help it. His face was drawn and pale, and I couldn’t wait to tell him that he didn’t have to worry about me taking too much from him anymore. He would have until the full moon and then some to recover his aura, and he would be back to his normal self, with his wolf firmly in check.
Then I noticed the two men seated at the corner table. I hadn’t noticed them from outside because neither of them had a heartbeat. They were both undead.
One of them stood: He was a broad, squat man with thinning white hair and a bushy full beard. It was gray and streaked with white. His companion was thinner, just a little taller, and looked a lot younger — maybe my age. That was bullshit, though, because who knew how long he’d been undead? They both wore well-tailored business suits, and the one who was standing wore a set of wire-rimmed glasses that looked antique.
Hans stepped forward. There was a slight tremor in his voice, and I realized it was fear. “Abigail,” he said, “may I present to you Director Lewellan, and his assistant Adrian. Director, this is Abigail.”
The bulky bear of an elderly man took a step toward me. Director? He’s the Director? I thought in astonishment. He looked like a wise mountain man crossed with an accountant. Or maybe, you know, a mafia godfather crossed with an actual grandfather. Not that either of them really looked like authority figures, other than the fact that they were wearing suits. I swallowed anxiously. What was I supposed to do? Curtsey? Bow? Say hi?
“Good morning, Abigail,” the Director said. He had a rich voice that definitely fell more on the ‘grandpa’ side of things than ‘godfather.’ “I hope you are well. Hans explained that you were dealing with some difficulties finding enough blood, when I mentioned the state of his aura, earlier.”
Suddenly, Hans’ expression took on a new context as my brain caught up with what was going on. Hans wasn’t ashen-faced because he was still in shock about the wolf slipping through the cracks I’d left in his aura: he was afraid I was going to do what I’d said I would, and turn myself in to be interred. I looked at Lewellan with wide eyes and blinked as it dawned on me just how close I’d come to having to take that particular bullet.
And then, because I was still uncontrollably giddy with the highs of adrenaline and excitement and life, and the knowledge that I wasn’t going to have to give myself up…
…then, I laughed in the Director’s face.
Director Lewellan could not have found my laughter amusing. I know I didn’t. Horrified by my knee jerk reaction, I smacked my hand over my mouth in a desperate attempt to cut it off. Laughing in the face of a vampire who was probably at least as old as Mr. Salvatore had been, and who had the backing of the whole vampire Society/Center/Whatever behind him was definitely a bad idea.
Director Lewellan’s brow furrowed slightly. “I fail to see the humor, but please: don’t choke on your mirth for my sake,” he said. His voice was amazingly calm and tranquil for coming from such a stocky, bushy-bearded man. I would have expected him to sound gruff, like the kind-hearted but scary grandpa in Heidi, or a Sherpa drill sergeant. “Hans has been kind enough to verify the Center’s reports on how you were transitioned into vampirism, and it sounds to me as though you fully deserve to appreciate every opportunity for laughter you come across, after such a trial.”
I swallowed and lowered my hand. If Director Lewellan was insulted, it didn’t show on his face. And his tone of voice was so unruffled I honestly found myself wondering if my laughter really hadn’t struck him as rude at all. “I’m sorry,” I said anyway — figuring it was best to err on the side of caution when it came to any ancient undead. “I’ve just been under a lot of stress and I didn’t expect to see you here so suddenly. The laughter was just a nervous reaction.”
The Director gave my explanation a nod of acceptance and moved on. “I can certainly understand. It is exceedingly uncommon for one of our kind to be born without anyone to provide guidance, in this day and age. There was considerable concern about your ability to last until someone suitable arrived to, as they say, show you the ropes.”
“And that person is supposed to be you?” I asked. I almost winced. Don’t sass the master vampire, I scolded myself. Hans was teaching me bad habits by letting me get away with it with him. I blamed nerves. How close was sunrise? I needed to get Emma to Megan before she got worse.
“Yes,” Lewellan said. He even smiled when he said it: a kind of self-effacing grin. “I know I don’t look like much, but I assure you I have some expertise in the matter. I have transitioned seven direct scions. In my entire line there are eighteen vampires. Ours is one of the larger families.”
O-kay, I told myself. Is that a lot? He said it is, so I guess so. Living in the city had really skewed my sense of numbers, when it came to how many people it took to make a ‘lot.’ But then again, I’d always figured that more than two was pushing my limit, if we were all in the same room. The real question was: how was I supposed to respond?
Logically, I should probably just freak out — to some extent or another. But since I’d managed to sort out my whole ‘lack of donors’ issue for the short term, I was actually just relieved about that rather than anxious about whatever else might go down. I mean, the surprised burst of laughter aside, I wasn’t flipping out about Director Lewellan’s appearance or what he and Adrian might want from me. I was sure that would catch up with me later. But really, all I wanted to do was pull Hans aside, share the good news, grab Emma, and go get Megan to fix her up before sunrise.
Still, insulting the very virile vampire seemed like it would be a mistake. I was pretty sure men were supposed to get touchy if they thought you were unimpressed by their ability to sire progeny.
“Oh,” I said. “That’s a lot. You must be proud.” Somehow I didn’t think I should just go with: ‘that’s nice, but I’ve got shit to do. Hans, go get Emma so we can get out of here.’ “So, um, I’m pretty sure sunrise is on its way. Should we just go ahead and adjourn for the day and pick this up again tonight? I’m sure you’ll be wanting to get to wherever you’re holing up for the daylight hours.” That would be wonderful. As soon as I got rid of Lewellan, I could grab Emma and hightail it for Megan’s.
Unfortunately, Lewellan just chuckled. “We have a bit before then,” he said, “and I’d like to start your education as soon as possible. You’ve been managing on your own for far too long already. As for ‘getting under cover,’ you needn’t worry on my account. My donors are already settled at the hotel, and I myself will be staying here to better see to your needs until we depart with Salvatore for the center.”
“Oh,” I said. Well, crap. “You’re staying here?” I tried to keep the disappointment out of my voice and managed to just sound scared, instead. But then again, the last time I’d had a vampire in my house he’d killed me, so I figured that would be understandable.
Lewellan nodded. “Salvatore and I were old friends, and this house still recognizes itself as his home. I will be quite comfortable here, I assure you. And since I’ve nowhere to go and no rush to be there, why don’t we just relocate to the basement parlor. I would like to discuss your feeding issues, Abigail. I have rather serious concerns, based on the state of your Prime’s aura — and how bloated yours is, in contrast.”
I swallowed, but before I could protest his misunderstanding or agree to talk or tell him I didn’t have time for this, or anything, Director Lewellan turned and walked toward the Hall door. Adrian gave me a brief smile before standing up to follow behind him.
I stared at them as they went. Hans stepped beside me and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “It will be okay,” he whispered softly. “You don’t need to ask them to inter you, Abigail. They’re here to help. We’ll get something sorted out.”
I nodded jerkily. I had to fix this. I was going to explain to the Director that I wasn’t out of control, that my aura was bloated because I’d been hunting fae — and that I needed to take care of my other donor. Then Hans was going to drive Emma and I to Megan’s, and Megan would be able to fix her up. And Hans, too. And then I could spend the day dormant in Megan’s closet, instead of freaking out about the master vampire who’d moved into my house. I mean, Hans’ house. Whatever.
I took a deep breath. “I know,” I told Hans. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.” I strode after Director Lewellan, pretending to be more confident than I was. Hans silently followed after me.