Once I’d pushed in the last dresser drawer I rose and returned to the bed. I glanced down at my clothes — both the ones I was wearing and the ones I’d set out. Sebastian’s glamoured garb was of course, still perfect: there wasn’t so much as a wrinkle despite my crouching for the bottom drawers. In contrast, the clothes I’d picked out to steal from Emma were a rumpled pile on the bed. I gathered them up and turned toward the door. Ben was waiting downstairs, and I didn’t have time to freak out about that more — or rather, if I took more time to freak out I’d start freaking out about having someone waiting on me on top of everything else and it would come out to a net zero for venting anxiety.
Not that freaking out was a scientifically measurable, medically approved method for dealing with anxiety or anything.
I could hear Ben stop pacing when I stepped out of Emma’s room, which was pretty clear evidence that he could hear me, too. When I got downstairs he was leaning against the outside door, looking like he’d been just relaxing the whole time. His donor Adam was waiting with him.
“Hi,” I said. “So, are we all set?”
Benjamin nodded and gestured toward the door. Adam went out first, and when I approached Ben produced a large umbrella and opened it over us. He walked me to his car.
The shade from the umbrella actually seemed to help, though my skin still felt hot and itchy almost as soon as we stepped outside. The glare of the sunlight on, well, everything was a little bit maddening. I had to squint and hold Ben’s arm to keep myself from stumbling. I’m not sure how he managed, except that he was not wearing goddamn imaginary faerie high heels — and then I did stumble, because abruptly my heels slapped against the ground like flats.
Ben caught me by twisting around like a viper and sliding the arm holding the umbrella in front of me. “Woah,” he said. “I’ve got you.”
“Goddamn heels,” I muttered. “They aren’t even real and the heel broke.” I glanced up at Ben — it was easier to look up, away from the sun-illuminated ground. Ben was grinning down at me. I tried to look neutral back, but since I was squinting it probably came out as a glare. I should’ve said something polite, like ‘thank you’ except then I would be indebted to him because the weave had never heard of just being polite because it was built on tradition and traditionally faeries were sadistic asshats. Damn, that was going to get awkward eventually. “I’m fine now,” I said instead.
“Of course,” Ben agreed. He turned to start walking again. Instead of offering me his free arm again he slid it around my waist. This time when I stumbled it didn’t have a damn thing to do with my shoes: instead it was just a mix of surprise and oh god oh god oh god I’m trapped. Ben’s arm tightened to keep me from tripping, which just made it worse.
I kept my mouth clamped shut to keep any babbling from escaping — or yelling. I very carefully did not breathe and did my damnedest to take careful steps while pushing down my knee-jerk panic to an acceptable level. It’s just Ben, he isn’t up to anything, you can tear his arm out of its socket if you need to run away, I told myself. My self-assurance wasn’t enough to shut up the undercurrent of anxiety trying to work its way back up to panic, though. It continued with: oh no oh god what’s he going to do with me oh shit I’m getting in a car with a guy I barely even know this cannot end well didn’t you learn anything from criminal dramas he’s going to lock you in a basement and graft a straw into your jugular and holy shit it’s a limo.
I blinked twice when we reached the street. Ben’s car was, indeed, a limousine. Adam was holding the back door open for us. “You have a limo,” I said.
Ben smirked. “I do. It’s not really suitable for hunting rogue vampires in, but when I have to travel in the daytime I like to do so in comfort — and out of the sun.” The back windows were so darkly tinted they were opaque. I thought that was illegal… but then again, vampire car. He probably had a special sticker on his license plate like diplomats do or something. Something to let cops know: do not pull this one over or you will lose your job and three quarts of blood.
“I thought we were just going to be in the back of a windowless van,” I commented while Ben guided me to the open door. I peered inside, letting my curiosity get the better of me: I’d never actually been in a limo, on account of not having been dating when my high school prom took place.
Ben’s limo only had the one back door. Directly across from it was a bank of seats that stretched along the entire side and curved around along the driver’s side partition. Opposite the seats, next to the door, there was a mini-fridge and what looked like maybe a bar. I climbed in to get a better look and saw that it was a bar, with a flat screen TV and small media center installed above it, where the window would be if the window were real.
I also noticed a clearly labeled and quite over-sized first aid kit tucked in the corner next to the last seat, partially buried under some discarded books and magazines. Seeing it and remembering the layout of Hans’ car, I glanced at the floor along the seats and noticed catches that would open storage compartments. And that’s where Ben keeps his arsenal, I thought.
Then the door closed behind me, and with a psychic snap the outside world was cut off from my supernatural senses. I jumped despite myself and wound up in the seats by the driver’s partition, twisted around to try and see what had happened even as my brain tried to be reasonable about it and say: wards. He said it was a warded vehicle.
Behind me, Ben had gotten into the car, too. He tucked the umbrella into a slot by the door, then sat in the seats diagonal from me and smiled.
Oh fuck me, seriously? my brain continued in its ‘reasonable’ tone. All it takes for a guy to trap you — cut off from all of reality — is a nice car? How the hell did you survive this long?
Shut up, me, I shot back. It’s just Ben. I groped for some more meritorious reassurances. They weren’t forthcoming. The limo abruptly slid into motion and I reflexively grabbed the seat. I may have punched my fingers into the leather. Aw, crap. Now I have to feel bad about damaging his interior before he garrotes me.
Ben took a deep breath, then let it out. “So,” he drawled. My autopilot got ahead of that and cut him off, though.
“No,” I said. “Just: no. Dammit, Ben, don’t you know that the first rule of bite club is that you don’t talk about bite club? Especially not with the innocent young victim of the last session who’s secretly jonesing for another go.” Oh shit, I thought in horror, did I say that out loud? “And seriously, Ben: I know I look all clean and pretty but I haven’t showered yet. I’m still gross. Show some restraint, man!”
Ben looked back at me with a wide, indulgent grin. “Actually,” he said. “I was going to remind you that you said you needed to make some calls.” He held up his phone and waggled it back and forth, half-teasing, half-offering.
Yep. Tomato face forever. “Uh-huh,” I said weakly — even though I didn’t relax my grip on the seat. “Um… Do you have John’s number in there?”
Ben’s shit-eating grin relaxed into a casual smile and he nodded. He pulled the number up and passed the phone to me while it was ringing. That was probably a good idea on his part, because it forced me to get my fingers out of his car seat and take the damn phone, and it was good on my part because it meant I didn’t have to get up the courage to hit ‘dial’ on my own while I was still freaking out about what my autopilot had blurted at Ben.
John answered almost before I had the phone to my ear. “Mr. Dolcet,” he said pleasantly. “What can I do for you this morning?”
“Um,” I replied. “Hi. Actually, it’s Abby.”
“Abigail!” John exclaimed. “I wasn’t sure if you would be leaving the fae realm before sunset. How are you holding up? How is everything over there? Mr. Dolcet gave me an overview of what he and the others found, but I’ve still been worried, sis.”
I tried to blink back the surge of awkward that briefly overwhelmed my baseline of anxiety. “Oh,” I said. “Uh… I’m good. It’s good over there, I think. Megan is taking care of Emma. But: three’s a crowd, you know? I’m only back because they need space to figure themselves out, and stuff.”
“I see,” John said. “That’s rough. But don’t give up hope,” he added with more insight than I was comfortable with him having — adoptive brother or not. “Emma is a self-declared polyamorous individual, and from everything I’ve heard Megan has always been quite open-minded and rather close to you as well.”
I felt the flush in my face reach my ears. I was far too aware that Ben was hearing all of this and probably imagining me in a three-way with Emma and Megan now. God knew I was. With Ben watching.
Emma would love that.
“Um. Yeah. I’m not too worried,” I managed to push out. I only stumbled over the words a little bit, and that wasn’t even because I was lying. It was just because I was that embarrassed to be having this conversation with anyone. “That’s not why I called, anyway,” I hastily added.
“Oh,” John said. “Of course not. What do you need, Abigail?”
I winced. I didn’t like the reminder that I was only reaching out because I needed something, even if John didn’t sound like he minded. “Um. Have you heard anything from Hans?” I asked.
There was a momentary silence on the other end. Then John sighed. “Not yet,” he said. “I’ve tried calling his cellphone, too, but that didn’t go through. According to the message, it’s off… But if he shifted while it was in his pocket it might just be a mangled lump of plastic, now. I’ve been waiting for him to find a way to call me.”
I winced again, this time in memory of the mangled, bloody mess all of Hans’ clothes had come back as the one time I’d seen him shift back to human after he’d turned into a wolf while wearing them. The wince wasn’t so much for the mess, though, as it was for the pain he’d clearly been in. “That would…” I started to say before a thought hijacked that one and started over. “Wait. Why do you think he might have shifted?”
Again the long, uncomfortable pause on the other end. This one was a little longer and more uncomfortable, even. Then John took a deep breath. “Well,” he said. “It might be nothing, but I’ve been up all morning on the breaking news sites, trying to keep on top of the mundane responses to everything that happened last night. And…” I could almost hear him wincing on the other end. “Well, it was practically a footnote on the site — everything was eclipsed by the ‘gang war’ that exploded last night — but there was a report of a rabid dog attacking people down on Plum and South Emerson. That’s right by the Market Street branch library…” John hesitated, but this time the hesitation wasn’t due to awkwardness. It made my blood run cold.
“Well, it might not be anything,” John repeated. “But Abigail: that’s where Lewellan killed Mr. Stuessy. And that’s the last place anyone I’ve been able to talk to saw Hans last night.”