The knock at the door caught me entirely by surprise. It shouldn’t have since my senses were on high alert, but I’d been so focused inward I hadn’t been registering anything with my supernatural hearing. I shrieked on instinct — except it came out more as a loud wheeze since I hadn’t stopped hyperventilating. I stopped my heart and my breathing immediately. Bizarrely, I was grateful for the interruption — anything to pull my thoughts away from the fae and those lines that had been woven into my soul, the stitches that Lewellan and Archarel had popped.
I probably should’ve passed out after hyperventilating for so long… except, yeah: I was dead. I tried to focus on that instead of panicking in circles about how my soul might’ve been torn up enough to need stitching the first time. “Yes?” I squeaked.
“Abigail?” Benjamin asked from the other side of the door. “Are you alright? I was told you’d collapsed.”
I stopped breathing on an inhale, so I was able to blow out a sigh of relief. “Yeah,” I called back. “I’m okay. I was just a little essence-starved and coming back to Katherine’s house uninvited took what I had left out of me.”
The door creaked open, and the sudden noise scared away what little relief I’d just experienced. I instinctively pushed myself back against the headboard of Emma’s bed — as though I had anywhere to retreat to — because, hello: vampires are scary. Ben leaned his head into the room, saw me, and slid the rest of himself in after it. He closed the door behind him.
My heart started to beat again. I was too far on the alive side of the spectrum to be able to easily control that. Worse: I was so full that my enhanced senses had no problem keying in on the way Benjamin’s pupils dilated in response. And was there a pallor to his skin? He looked pale to me. I mean: paler than usual. Oh god, is he thirsty? It was after sunup. All decent, self-respecting vampires should be in their coffins!
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Ben said. His eyes skimmed down over me and then back up to my face. “I imagine last night was more arduous for you than for the rest of us,” he added dryly.
I sputtered out a laugh. I couldn’t help it. The sheer understatement-ness of that understatement could only elicit the same incredulity most people reserved for my craziest babblings. “You have no idea,” I managed to say.
Benjamin favored me with a wry grin. My laughter cut off: there’d been a hint of fang. Just the tiniest little bit, but my super-senses weren’t about to miss anything so blatantly threatening. “Would you like to talk about it?” Ben asked. He strode into the room, closing the distance between us.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit, my brain started panicking. I was full. Ben wasn’t. And I already knew he could take blood from me since he’d done it before. I tried to swallow, but my throat was suddenly dry, probably in response to the recollection of what being fed on had been like — of what it had felt like when his curse had subsumed its mirror in the corruption of my curse upon my aura. “Um,” I croaked. I felt way too warm for some reason. “Maybe?”
Ben reached the foot of the bed. He nodded at me, gesturing that the conversational ball was in my court, and sat down.
I tried to rally. I hadn’t had time to get last night sorted out — hell, I hadn’t had time to get last week sorted out, not really. And I had other things I wanted more than to talk about… I didn’t even want to think about it. Besides, I’d made a damn list! But for some reason I couldn’t remember what was on it, or even the bullet points. I was too busy being aware of the vampire sitting at the foot of my girlfriend’s bed, less than a lunge away from me. “What I want more is a change of clothes and a shower,” I replied on autopilot while trying to remember what it was that I needed in order to deal with stuff on my freakout queue. A phone, maybe? Yeah, I was going to call people.
Being scared I could understand, but why the hell was I being so scatterbrained?
“And a phone,” I said. “I need to call some people. A bunch of people. I need to make sure Dad knows I’m okay, and that he’s okay, and find Hans and make sure he’s okay, and…”
Ben held up his hands and made ‘slow down’ motions. “Alright,” he said. “I can have one of my people get you a phone. You can use mine until they get back. And, um…” He glanced around briefly. “You’re in a relationship with Emma, right? Surly she won’t mind if you borrow some of her things, and there’s a shower downstairs.”
I gawked at him. Was this a ploy? Was he going to bite me if I turned my back on him to get clothes? Or was he just trying to lull me into a false sense of safety, and then he’d lunge as soon as I relaxed enough for my heart rate to drop to normal. And more importantly…
“Are you insane?” I blurted. “This house is absolutely crammed with fae. Sadistic, predatory, sometimes invisible fae. I am not getting naked and alone anywhere that isn’t warded twelve ways to Sunday!”
This time Ben laughed. “Right,” he said with appropriate chagrin. “I wasn’t thinking. Well, in that case… The hotel the rest of us scions are staying at has warded rooms. I can have one of my donors secure one for you and arrange for those wards to be reinforced while we’re driving over. You can make your immediately vital calls from the car, and by the time you’re done with the shower we’ll have a phone waiting for you.” Ben smiled at me. “I can personally guarantee that there is no more fae-free location in the city than a building that currently houses four vampires.”
I gave him a leery sideways glance. It’s Ben, I tried to reassure myself. He led a strike team into faerie land to make sure you were okay. Don’t be paranoid. Unfortunately, my paranoia wasn’t appeased. He’s also Mr. Spikey, it reminded me. He tried to kill you for Mr. Lewellan, and you barely know him, and he probably has loyalties you don’t even know about — not to mention the ones you do, like to whoever heads up his vampire clan — and he probably only wants to make sure you’re okay so he can have seconds sometime. Hell, inviting you over to his hotel? It’s like he’s stocking the mini-bar!
And that had me thinking about him having seconds. I flushed all over. Dammit, Ben! Stop trying to seduce me, I protested mentally. “Okay,” my treacherous autopilot agreed. “That would help a lot, actually. I don’t think I can really go back to staying at Hans’ place — not with that huge whole in the side of it. There’s just too much sunlight leaking in for my sense of security.” Plus, it’d be really awkward to keep staying there after we break up.
My stomach sank. Hans. Shit. Well, that thought took all the fun out of… no. No, I was not sort of kind of flirting with Mr. Spiky. What the hell, me?! Even if I could approve of his choice in beverages. Which I couldn’t. No way.
You’re a slut, you’re a slut, you’re a sluuuuuuuut, my psyche chanted in a singsong voice. I tried to get it to shut up, but it countered with an image of Ben in the shower, his spiky hair slicked back from the spray of near scalding water, his arms wrapped around my naked body like Hans’ had been, and his fangs sunk into my neck while my head lolled back, my lips parted in a moan while my body trembled in ecstasy.
I yanked my gaze away from Ben. No! Bad. Stop it! I scolded myself. You can’t just substitute Ben for Hans. That’s just mean! Why did I have to be so alive that my ‘alive’ desires were under even less control than normal? I couldn’t put together an answer: instead, my imagination responded by adding Hans into the mix, sandwiching me between himself and Ben — which would never ever happen, so my brain promptly replaced me in my fantasy with Emma, since at least that made sense, and holy fucking shit, it was hot. I tried to tell Ben not to worry about it and that I’d just go back to Mr. Salvatore’s place after all, but my autopilot substituted that with: “Why don’t you make those arrangements while I get some clothes together?,” while I was distracted.
“Sure,” Ben agreed. He stood and dug a cellphone out of his pockets. I rolled off the opposite side of the bed and scurried away from him, toward some dressers. While Benjamin called someone I didn’t know, I hastily rummaged through Emma’s drawers, grabbing stuff almost at random and throwing it onto the edge of the bed.
I’m sorry, I thought. I’m so, so sorry. At this rate Emma was going to need a new wardrobe, too, just to replace everything of hers I’d managed to get destroyed.
Interestingly, the mental apology seemed to be contained within my head — I didn’t notice any hooks of debt snagging into me from the weave, anyway. Thank god, I thought. I could barely control my mouth at the best of times — trying to make sure I didn’t apologize to or thank anyone in my head would have been impossible by any stretch of the imagination, and my imagination was known to be very stretchy. I didn’t think about that for long, though, because I had to focus or that very imagination was going to demonstrate its flexibility by working in things it had absolutely no right to be speculating on.
Once I’d verified that the dresser I was looking at contained clothes, I’d started from the bottom drawer and worked my way up. I felt sort of like a robber, searching from the bottom up so I didn’t have to take the time to push drawers in before looking at the next one — but I didn’t even realize it until I’d already gotten to the top drawer. I might not have realized it at all, I was so busy trying to rein in my rampantly inappropriate imagination, except that all my efforts of getting my mind out the gutter went out the window and back into the gutter when I found one of Emma’s black lace bras in my hands. Not that I knew it was just ‘one of’ many — except, no, there was another one. I shoved the one I was holding back in the drawer and tried to stop picturing her in it.
Which backfired, because apparently the other option was picturing her not in it.
Or anything else.
I was so keyed up I heard the nearly silent tp of Benjamin thumbing the button to turn off his smartphone. I whirled around to make sure he didn’t get a chance to sneak up on me — but he just smiled at me and said: “Everything will be set by the time we get there. We can take my car. The back seats are secure against sunlight.”
I kept my back straight and tried not to look as wobbly as my knees felt. Oh god, I thought, looking at Ben’s smile. There are definitely, like, ten micrometers of fangs in there. At least. I felt like my cheeks were sore and my ears were burning from blushing so hard. And why the hell is that sexy?! I was a freak. I was such a freak: this went way beyond being one of ‘those’ girls, and I wasn’t even entirely sure I’d come to terms with that part of my sexuality yet.
Maybe I was just too alive, I thought desperately. Yeah, that had to be it. Hell: I’d almost been nearly on the verge of being turned on by a troll gangbang a few minutes ago. It had to be the over-influx of essence making my ‘alive-ish’ desires run rampant. And it probably didn’t help that my aura currently consisted primarily of the remnants of those trolls’ auras. I mean: if they’d been horny enough to be ready to take ruthless advantage of me, then of course after drinking that in I was going to be having trouble with not wanting to be taken advantage of. Right?
Slut, my inner prude answered instead of offering me any reassurance at all.
And that was just a little too much for me to handle. My rational thought squeaked and tried to hide. My autopilot took over.
“Okay!” I blurted. “So most of the time right after I feed I make out with someone. And you just came over here in the sunlight and it burned through some of your aura and mine is absolutely bloated and I get it: you want to bite me. But dammit, Ben: I’m gross! I’m sweaty and dirty and I’ve been shot up, dragged down a street, torched by a faerie sun — and I’m pretty much wearing rags, and I probably taste like tar and ashes and dried blood, and I know that last one is kind of a turn on for you but holy crap, put those fangs away until after I’ve had my shower, okay?”
Inside, I gawked at myself. I couldn’t imagine how Ben would react to such blatantly insane accusations, but I knew it couldn’t be good. Except, instead of being indignant or angry, Benjamin just gawked back. “I… I don’t… I wouldn’t…” He stammered — but his half formed lies were stymied by his stumbling tongue and abrupt blush. Worse, his fangs had slid out two-thirds of an inch in response to my accusations. Even someone who didn’t have supernaturally acute vision would be able to see them now.
Oh my god, my brain stammered. Ben wants to bite me. And if I was going to be honest with myself, I wanted him to bite me, too.
How the hell was that supposed to work?!
“Sebastian,” I called out. It sounded more like a croak than a shout, but I felt the leyline connecting me to my butler briefly expand, and then with a psychic whoosh that I associated with him traveling the leyline, Sebas appeared beside me.
“Yes, Miss?” He asked politely. He was really getting into the whole butler thing: he even had a suit and everything.
“I need clothes,” I babbled. And a chaperone. “A glamour will do. Something to cover me up while I go out, until I can get showered and changed.”
While I was addressing Sebas, Ben clamped his mouth shut and turned toward the door. “And I’ll just, uh, have them bring the car around while you’re getting ready. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
I ignored Ben while he fled. “And can you make it something I can dispel when I want to, Sebas? I don’t want to have to eat my clothes just to take a shower.” I was already wearing them: a business suit with a pencil skirt and stockings and heels, and a trim jacket over a white blouse. There wasn’t a sign of dirt or blood or anything else like that on me. I didn’t even smell bad.
“Of course, Miss,” Sebas answered. “I’ll link it to your desires specifically: it will be dispelled as soon as you no longer desire its existence.”
“Okay,” I said. “Good. Th… that will be all,” I said, barely saving myself from thanking him. Sebastian bowed in acknowledgement, and then disappeared in a sudden swirl of dark mist. I swallowed. Great. Just great. Now I was all prettied up, Ben was waiting for me downstairs, and Sebas was gone.
My butler was the worst chaperone ever.