I’d thought I was being smart. I’d positioned myself to redirect the SUV, rather than standing directly in its path and trying to stop it. I hadn’t wanted to be squashed if it turned out I couldn’t hold it back — and I was thinking about how Fumiko had been able to throw around that ghoul earlier. Redirecting force was easier than just blocking it.
So I had positioned myself at the front of the SUV, since it had spun when the tires blew and was sliding sideways down the street. I figured one good shove would redirect it enough for it to slide past John — or at least only pulp one of his legs or something.
I hadn’t really realized — or accounted for — exactly how much force I was exerting. Or how small an area that force was being applied to.
The instant I unpaused time, the SUV’s front bumper crumpled under my hands. One of them slipped over it, striking the front of the vehicle’s frame with enough force to mangle my fingers and punch into the engine compartment.
Of course, the effort did redirect the vehicle. That was the point, and to that extent my efforts worked. However, although I’d shoved the SUV toward the curb it was still also moving forward down the street, still — and that meant that after that first instant it would have been out of my reach. If, that is, I hadn’t managed to accidentally implant my hand into the engine, first.
The shearing forward motion caused the crumpled metal to snag me. My wrist shattered. I screamed. I was yanked off my feet before I got the first syllable out. The SUV continued its lazy spin, whipping me across the pavement as it slid diagonally to the curb. My jeans and legs were shredded by being dragged over the street at such high speed. I didn’t even have time to stop time and disentangle myself — between the extra super human strength, healing my shattered wrist, and continually healing the rest of me as I was brutally dragged across the pavement, my remaining reserve of aura vanished before I could react.
Then the SUV bumped over the curb of a parking lot, snapping my trapped wrist again, before coming to a stop. My scream had devolved to a strangled moan of pain — but I choked that off fast. It wouldn’t do to look weak in front of my remaining enemy, and it was just pain.
When the SUV stopped I was just sort of hanging off the front end of it, so I got my feet back underneath me and wrenched my arm free. The brute force method did more damage to my wrist and dislocated my thumb — but since all of my fingers were still mangled anyway, that wasn’t a big loss. They’d heal. I was more angry with myself for pulling this stunt to begin with. What the fuck had sated me been thinking? I should’ve just let the vehicle pulp John. I mean, really: the whole reason I hadn’t gotten back in the car with Dad and Fumiko was that I didn’t want to leave John behind to be captured or to go on a murdering spree. Well, he wouldn’t have been available for either if I’d just let him be turned into a bloody smear in the street.
I could be so dumb when I was sated.
Now, though, I didn’t have time to worry about what was wrong with me when I was fed. Or rather, I did: but what the fuck was the point? I was thirsty, and that was where my attention should be. I straightened and looked around.
John was still on the ground where he’d been, unharmed. He was actually starting to twitch like he thought he was going to get up or something. For that matter, Adrian was moving, too. Slowly, but with increasing speed. His companion was standing in dumb shock. The gun he’d pulled from under his coat was hanging in a slack grip at his side as he stared, trying to sort out what exactly had happened. I grinned. That was dumb of him: now that I was entirely dead and time wasn’t frozen, I could hear his heart beating.
I broke into a run. I may have been limited to the same rate of time as the rest of the mortal world, but I was still unnaturally strong and fast. My bounding strides ate the distance between us. I was halfway to him before he even started to react — and that was to drop his gun and wrench open the door of his vehicle.
I laughed as I closed the remaining distance. By then he was behind the wheel and trying desperately to get the vehicle’s ruined engine to start.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t just wrench him out of the SUV, I discovered. When I tried to force the door, it burned my hand in a way that screamed supernatural — and sent burning agony through my hand. Warded, I realized — and remembered that the other donors’ vehicle had been warded as well, which had blocked out my supernatural awareness of the people in it when the doors had closed. And now I can’t hear his heartbeat, either, I noted dryly.
I was beginning to detest warlocks.
I didn’t have time to dwell on that, however, because Adrian had rolled off the hood of the SUV and was rising from a crouch. His teeth were all razor sharp, but he lacked the madness that I’d seen in John’s eyes. It hardly seemed fair: I’d punched Adrian pretty damn hard. I was disappointed in my sated self — I should have left him flesh-starved, at least. Really I would’ve felt better about it if Adrian had never gotten up again.
When Adrian straightened he produced a gun of his own — a handgun that he fired twice, tracking me as I dove to the side. I wasn’t sure if I was faster or stronger than him — not without my reserve aura to pull from — but it didn’t help that one of the bullets actually hit me. Fortunately just in the arm, not anywhere that it would actually slow me down. Being dead gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘flesh wound’ — as long as it didn’t destroy a part of me, I didn’t have to worry about it.
I spun back to my feet and rushed Adrian. Evenly matched in strength and speed or not, I didn’t have any advantage at range. But he could only have so many bullets, and if I could hit him hard enough I could put him down and then go for the warlock. I figured the easiest way to get him out of the SUV would be to pick up his sub-machine gun and start putting holes in it until he came out or I ran out of bullets. And if I ran out of bullets, well: there was a restaurant up the street with plenty of people in it.
As long as I didn’t leave Adrian or any of his people around to stop me, I could feed at my leisure. Even if they were all just regular mortals.
Adrian shot me two more times before I closed the distance between us, at which point he didn’t even bother with the gun anymore. He dropped it and moved to grapple. I threw a punch and he didn’t even try to dodge: it caved his chest in again, but this time he didn’t go flying backwards because he’d grabbed hold of me.
The next thing I knew, one of his feet was suddenly in front of me and then we were both falling as he tripped me over it and bore me to the ground. I thrashed, trying to break his grip, but he remained stubbornly latched on to me. We were really close in strength, but without my reserves he was a little stronger. Worse, he seemed to know what he was doing — and his shattered chest popped back out to normal. The fucker has regeneration! That was so fucking unfair! I wouldn’t even be in this mess if John had regenerated instead of going psycho on me.
Adrian, I realized, must have fed recently. And that pissed me off. Not because I was upset over the thought that he’d killed someone to set up this little confrontation — if in fact he had. No, just because I was thirsty and he had the fucked up arrogance to flaunt that he’d gotten to feed when I hadn’t.
I snarled and struggled, but my efforts weren’t enough to break free — once Adrian’s chest healed he seemed stronger and even managed to get me pinned with my arms behind my back. I could’ve broken the pin, but it would’ve broken my arms to do it, I thought. Not a completely untenable option, but I didn’t think it would leave me in good enough shape to fight him off. Worst case, I’d do it and try to run, if I could.
I should’ve just fled and gone for some regular humans, instead of opting to try for one of Lewellan’s warlocks. Sure, a regular human would’ve probably fucked me up mentally with all their issues flooding into my brain — I got enough of that from witches like Emma — but at least it would’ve been easy. And probably wouldn’t have provided so much energy that I turned stupidly moral.
On top of me, Adrian shouted for backup. That made me struggle harder — one of my arms snapped at the elbow. Adrian responded by pulling up on them. His knee was in my back and my vertebrae cracked as he wrenched me up in a way my body wasn’t meant to bend. Then he slammed me forward into the ground again. “Backup, now!” He yelled again.
I would have stopped struggling and tried to talk my way out — that had worked well for me before — but I knew it wouldn’t this time. Not given the way they’d lit John up without saying anything. If I relaxed at all it would probably just mean that Adrian would have time to produce another gun and shoot me in the head until I went dormant. On an intellectual level I knew I could survive that — in fact, it might even be easier to find someone to drain using Megan’s faerie abilities — but the instincts that were in control of me refused to allow that to come to pass.
The curse wanted me to live. That was what my thirst was: a pure, unadulterated desire for life.
Besides, I was clearly in enemy hands. Even though I retained my awareness when I was dormant, I suspected Adrian — or rather, Lewellan — had no intention of leaving my body sufficiently intact for me to ever come back. He’d probably scatter my ashes over the river. Or let Mr. Fiore make good on that satellite threat.
The thought of being taken out so ignobly drove me to heights of fury that I had never imagined myself capable of. Since I was the only one who mattered, why couldn’t Lewellan have found someone else to fuck with? I was going to kill him. Him and everyone he’d ever known, whether they were important to him or not. If he destroyed my body I’d use my ley line to him to haunt his fucking ass for the rest of eternity.
Assuming my soul wouldn’t disperse without a body to anchor it, or something.
Over my struggles and Adrian’s grunts as he held me down I could hear two more cars coming up the road — and since they’d gotten past whatever was keeping other traffic away and there were two of them, they had to be more of Lewellan’s hunters. It didn’t sound like Hans’ Hummer or Fumiko’s car, anyway, so I couldn’t even pretend that a rescue was coming. One of them screeched to a stop; the other was behind it by some distance still. Even closer by, I could hear heavy boots running up the street — the gunman from the other SUV, I guessed. I should’ve realized that someone in there could have survived: I hadn’t even thought about them, since they were hidden behind their wards. Apparently I wasn’t only stupid when I was sated.
“You’re done, Adrian,” I snarled into the pavement. Maybe I didn’t have the ability to back up my threats, but that didn’t stop me from laying them out. “You and your boss, and the whole damn Center. I didn’t do anything to you fuckers or anyone else, but that’s done. If you want a fucking war with me, you’re going to get it, you saw-toothed corpse-eater. I’ve been dealing with cannibals my whole fucking life. You think you’re going to be a problem for me? Ha! You’ve even come pre-killed. I just have to make it stick. You are going to regret…”
I was cut off by the sudden — and loud — boom boom boom of a combat shotgun. I was far too familiar with it now to be mistaken.
Almost concurrently, I heard a cra-cra-crack cra-cra-crack of a rifle firing in bursts. Bursts that slammed into Adrian and threw him off of me.
I didn’t waste time trying to figure out what was going on. I rolled so that I was on top of Adrian and punched him in the face until his skull caved in. I would’ve just broken his arms and legs at the elbows and knees, but that would’ve been awkward to manage with only one good arm. Then I rose to my feet and turned around.
The first vehicle I’d heard — the one that had screeched to a stop — turned out to have been a van. Outside of it knelt Justin. The solock was wielding the rifle that had dropped Adrian. A few feet away from him, standing, was Derrick. He’d just finished unloading his shotgun into the SWAT-geared man who’d gunned down John, then casually flipped something roughly the size of a grenade onto the corpse. It burst like a balloon full of napalm and fire. Justin rose to his feet and started jogging toward me while Derrick pivoted, slapped a replacement cartridge of shells into his shotgun, and covered the wrecked remains of the SUV.
The second vehicle was a car, and it started to stop much closer to where I was. There were four people inside of it, but my attention was drawn to Benjamin. He threw open the front passenger door and blurred out of it at super-human speeds before it had even stopped. “Abigail,” he ordered. “Stand down. Don’t do anything you’ll regret when you’re alive.”
I looked at him sideways. “Benjamin,” I said. I could hold back my thirst for a moment — I didn’t need Ben to take another shot at subduing me when I was even more messed up physically than I had been the last time. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” ‘Thank you’ might have been more appropriate, but like hell was I going to say that: if Megan’s soul gave me faerie powers, it might give me faerie weaknesses, too. And to them, gratitude seemed to be akin to debt, and debt meant whoever you owed could potentially compel you. Fuck that shit.
He smirked. “Oh, Derrick insisted we follow you in case you ran into trouble. You enthralled him pretty thoroughly, Abby. And since it seems you have found yourself in a spot of it, I thought it would be nice if I returned the favor of keeping you from murdering anyone. And see if you were interested in that drink, while I was at it.”
I sucked in a breath. My tongue ran over my teeth. I hadn’t really given a shit about why he was following me — as long as he wasn’t doing it on behalf of Lewellan, which Adrian’s murder pretty much confirmed. The explanation made sense anyway, though: vampires typically enthralled new donors for up to a year when they fed on them. A more experienced donor could shake it off more quickly, but the only reason I’d managed to break free of Mr. Salvatore’s control so fast when he’d had me had been that Megan had been feeding on me for over four years prior to that. So I might have Derrick under my control for months or weeks or days or hours… whatever. It was the part about sharing the drink Ben had offered me that caught my interest.
“Sounds delectable,” I agreed. “Unfortunately,” and here I kicked Adrian’s corpse, “this one is worthless for food.” I nodded at the burning corpse down the street, by Derrick. “That one is, too. Your donors and Fiore’s solocks are practically empty, and Lewellan’s warlocks are in these warded vans. So what do you have in mind?” I took a step toward him. “Because I know there are some mortals down the street, but I have to admit: I’d expect something classier from you, Ben. Really.” My eyes wandered down from his face and along his neck. His pulse was steady and rhythmic — he had a buffer of life force to spare from draining Justin, after all. And it didn’t hurt that drinking from my own kind was extremely hedonistic. Feeling guilty about pleasure was very much one of those stupid sated Abby things.
Benjamin watched my wandering eyes and chuckled. I saw his skin flush a little, which was very enticing — Justin’s blood must still have been fresh. I gave him my most rewarding smile, but he just shook his head. “Wards, my dear, are far more effective against supernatural beings than they are against mortal ones.” I nodded, not really paying attention to his words. I knew that already. “Adam,” Ben called to someone in his car, “would you be so kind as to fetch the lady a beverage?”
One of the men in the backseat — the guy who’d tried to pull a gun on Fumiko — got out. He gave me a leery glance and edged around me toward Adrian’s trashed SUV. I smiled pleasantly at Adam. He had nothing to worry about: I didn’t imagine he had enough life force left to even scratch the surface of my thirst. All of his yummy lifeblood was in Benjamin, after all.
When Adam got to the SUV he pulled out a handgun. He tapped the barrel of the gun against the window, almost gently. Then he hollered at the man inside — who was still completely shrouded from my supernatural senses, even though I could see him in the driver’s side seat, trying vainly to get the engine to start. “Hey! Two choices. Get out of your own volition, or…” Adam shrugged. The gun was a pretty obvious indication of what option two was.
The warlock in the SUV looked at Adam, then at me. I looked back at him, smiling at the situation. “I’d listen to him,” I said. “If I have to come in to get you just because you’re being stubborn and got too shot to come out, I’m going to have to take down those wards first. And since they’re unpleasant to touch, that’s going to involve finding something big enough to tear your car in half and throwing it at you.”
The warlock swallowed. My gaze keyed in on his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down, situated as it was in the middle of his neck. Then, trembling, he reached for the handle of his door. “I… I surrender,” he shouted back to us. “Just… Just…”
I heard Benjamin sigh. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m from the Dolcet family, and well-sated. I won’t let her kill you — that’s rather the current point of my intervention, frankly. Now get out.”
The warlock swallowed again and popped open his door. Still trembling — eyes jumping around from person to person to corpse to shattered vehicle to corpse — he got out and closed the door behind him. I turned my smile from him to Benjamin. “May I?” I inquired. I would regardless, but it seemed appropriate to show some politeness. Otherwise he might get huffy and have Adam shoot me in the back of the head, right?
Benjamin inclined his head. “I’ll drag you off him if you’re going to far,” he remarked. “But otherwise, by all means: enjoy.”
I let my smile widen and made myself a mental note: if Hans did end up breaking up with me and being seduced by Fumiko, I should totally see about hooking up with Ben. He really knew how to treat a woman right. I ran my tongue over my teeth and blew Benjamin a kiss, just so he’d know I was interested even after I finished drinking and reverted back to panickily neurotic sated Abby.
Then I spun and lunged. My new juice box screamed once — and then I happily sank my fangs into his neck.