My mouth opened, then closed, then opened again without letting any words out. I did manage to squeak, but that just made Ben look amused and hungry. Which I guess was an improvement over intense and hungry? It’s a trap, my hindbrain pointed out. I couldn’t quite figure out how, but I knew it was. The rest of my brain was telling that part of my brain to kindly stuff it. I kind of wanted him to lean in and… bite me? Kiss me? I didn’t even know what I wanted!
So instead of saying or doing anything I just kept staring up at Ben while he smiled back at me. I kept as still as the most helpless of bunnies that found itself being eyed by a snake and desperately hoped that Ben didn’t make any sudden moves. Or that, if he did, he made the right ones.
Whatever those might be.
Weirdly, I wasn’t as bothered by the thought that Ben was setting me up for something as I probably would have been otherwise. I’d noticed that having a really good cry could restore my equilibrium, even when it wasn’t Megan who’s taking care of me afterward. But I also wasn’t really thinking about that.
Biting, I decided. Definitely. That’s safer than kissing. Right?
My brain was more than happy to immerse itself in recollections of how incredible it had felt when my aura was unwound by Benjamin’s curse. I bit my lip and worried it between my teeth. I was also imagining Ben kissing me, because that was the only way to determine if that was more dangerous than the biting. Also, because I felt emotionally exhausted from crying, and my brain didn’t want to go back there. It kept with the fantasies even when I tried to make it be serious.
Eventually, they started blending together.
While Ben kept holding my head in his lap and stroking my hair; while I kept looking up at him — biting my lip — and he kept gazing back at me: his eyes smoldering darkly… Well, my imagination was going completely hentai on me. Actual Ben was being perfectly nice. Imaginary Ben was using the hand that stroked my hair to seize a handful of it and yank my head back, leaving my neck arched and exposed across his lap. Imaginary Ben’s mouth was hot against my neck: trailing kisses along my flesh and letting his fangs graze my skin as they wound their way with antagonizing delicacy up to my neck. Actual Ben was holding me still with his other arm. Imaginary Ben had slipped that hand down over my hip. He had tugged up the faerie skirt in order to determine whether or not my faerie wardrobe had included panties. Which, I wasn’t surprised to imagine, it didn’t.
I’d started breathing again, but my breaths were shallow — and probably expanded my chest rather gratuitously for how little air I was actually taking in. Which was entirely on purpose. I felt… I wasn’t sure, but I really wanted to do something to say ‘thank you’ for his taking care of me while I was crying, and apparently for me that meant being a slut. It probably didn’t help that the whole time I was imagining Ben finger banging me and cutting his fangs on my neck, real Ben was undressing me with his eyes and slowly running them over me with an intensity that suggested he was in the same headspace.
Hell. Maybe I was just depressed and desperate for someone to be happy with me, and if that meant letting Ben do whatever he wanted, then okay.
“So,” I said. I fumbled with words, since a plain ‘thank you’ wouldn’t be a good idea. “I, um, appreciate you taking care of me while I was crying.” I winced at myself. Yeah, that didn’t come out awkward at all. “You can let me up now.” I winced harder. Real smooth. I thought you wanted him to pin you down? When are you going to start ‘owning’ something other than threatening to kill people? Seriously, being a slut is not as bad as being a murderess. Get it together, Abby! I started blushing in furious embarrassment, which just egged the accusations on and probably looked entirely like I was thinking of something else. Yep, my brain continued. No mixed signals here. Geeze, you’re already in the guy’s lap. Why don’t you just roll over and suck it or something?
And just like that all the blood drained out of my face and I found myself staring up at Ben with the widest eyes ever. Because I did not think about… well, okay: I did, but I didn’t ever think about me doing it!
“I have a boyfriend,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I was telling Ben or reminding myself. God dammit, Ben, stop trying to seduce me!
Ben nodded. His smile didn’t slip. “And a girlfriend. So I take it you aren’t seeing anyone exclusively?”
I gawked at him. “I…” Actually, Hans had said he was okay with me seeing other people, hadn’t he? He hadn’t actually said he was only okay with me seeing other women. Did I really have to wait until he dumped me before I did anything with any other guys? I hadn’t waited before kissing Melvin. But that had been vamp-Abby. Vamp-Abby was ruthless and self-centered. Living Abby was supposed to be the good girl. “I don’t know,” I blurted while trying to sort it out.
Ben’s lips twisted in a little smirk. He chuckled. “Oh, but I suppose I can be gentleman enough to wait until you find out before doing anything ungentlemanly.”
I gawked up at him and closed my mouth. Then I opened it to say something, but at that point the car rolled to a stop and stayed there.
“Well,” Ben said, breaking the mood. Or possibly the awkward. “It seems we’re here.” He grinned down at me. “Ah, you may want to adjust your clothes. If we’re trying to maintain a semblance of propriety, that is.”
“My what?” I said stupidly. Then I glanced down at myself and squawked in dismay.
Somehow my blouse had lost a couple of buttons. And the neckline hadn’t been like that, had it? It was way wider than I remembered, with the collar lying flat and leaving my neck and most of my shoulder and way too much of my chest — including some black lace that was freaking me out even more now that I didn’t have to look down my blouse to see it — exposed. I jerked my hands up to cover myself, then yanked one down to try to pull my skirt back in place, except no: no, it actually was shorter now.
“Fucking faeries!” I yelped. I scrambled out of Ben’s lap and tried to make my clothes look like I hadn’t picked them out so I could stretch out somewhere while waiting to be fucked. Oh god! I turned away from Ben and abandoned the blouse to try to stretch the skirt back down to its proper length. Somehow I knew that whether or not I’d been wearing illusionary panties when we left Katherine’s house, I definitely wasn’t now.
Ben — the cheeky fucker! — actually laughed at my antics. I kept scrambling toward the door, doing my best to hold the hem of my skirt down below my hips and all too aware that I was in narrow confines with a vampire who’d tried to kill me not even twelve hours ago and had professed to want to drink my blood less than ten minutes ago. And also: I was way, way too aware that I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to catch me and sink his fangs in before I got to the door or not.
I was panicked about my clothes, which were rapidly shifting into jeans and a long sleeved flannel shirt — and how long have I been wearing flats, anyway?, I wondered — and I was so confused. Not just because it was freaking Ben of all people who was getting me riled up, but because… It was Ben. I mean, I’d stopped thinking of him as some scary punk-goth super-being around the time I beat him into the ground and tied him up with a truck bumper, hadn’t I? After that, I’d sort of been seeing him as this kind of dorky punky poser in my mind’s eye.
It was like being turned on by Jimmy from work. I mean… not that I didn’t have some good Jimmy fantasies. But those had all always involved Carl and their torrid, secret love that they could only express in the deep, dark confines of the print house basement. Not… not me!
So how the hell had Ben managed to flip all that ‘mostly harmless dorkiness’ over and make himself vaguely terrifying again? And where the hell did psycho-punk ‘I’m gonna murder you because you’re the definition of evil’ vampire get off reinventing himself as considerate, caring, suave seducer vampire?
And then laughing at me when I started getting riled up?!
Holy crap, and I’d actually pictured myself suck… I clamped down on that thought before it could get started again.
Maybe it was just the reminder that Ben actually was a lot older than me that was messing with my mental picture of him. Older meant more experienced. That meant he’d probably had lots of practice seducing innocent maidens into letting him suck their blood. Crap on a cracker: I hadn’t even waited to be seduced before I’d offered. He probably thought I was easy.
Frankly, I was sort of thinking maybe I was, too. But dammit, that wasn’t on purpose! I didn’t want to be one of those girls!
Dammit, Megan, why did you always have to make it look it was more fun than it was terrifying?
Ben did catch me before I reached the door, but he didn’t throw me against the back of the car and sink his fangs into my neck like I half-want… expected. Like I half-expected. Instead, we did a sort of awkward shuffle where he got in front of me so that he was the first one out and could hold the umbrella up for both of us. While he was doing that I grabbed the bundle of Emma’s clothes that I’d brought with us — there was no way I was going to rely on Sebas’ ’emotionally responsive’ glamour garb any longer than absolutely necessary!
Adam was waiting by the car door, but didn’t open it for us: I was glad for that because it meant we were exposed to the sun for as little time as possible. Which is probably why he did it that way. While Ben walked me to the hotel, Adam closed the limo door behind us and then jogged back around to the front of the vehicle. It pulled away as we reached the hotel door, where another one of Ben’s donors was waiting.
“Morning, Ben,” the donor greeted us — showing that he knew ‘good’ and ‘morning’ did not belong in the same sentence together.
“Good morning, Sam,” Ben answered. “Sam, this is Abby. Abby, Sam has been my assistant for the past three years. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask him.”
“A shower?” I proposed on autopilot. “Also a phone, and breakfast.” I abruptly blushed. “Like: Bacon and eggs, not blood! I’m not asking to drink anyone’s blood, Sam! Where would you get that idea?!”
If Sam was off put by my erratic outburst, he didn’t show it. If he’d been a vampire’s assistant for three years, I figured, he was probably accustomed to early morning vampire weirdness.
“Of course,” Sam said. “We’ve arranged for room two-seventeen, and I had Michael reinforce it with wards,” he said. He offered me a small paper sleeve with a pair of key cards. “I had Mike go out to get a phone after he was done with the wards,” he added.
“Perfect,” said Ben. “Have him run it up to me when he gets back.” Ben smiled at me. “I’ll put in John’s number and hold onto it until you’re done in your room.”
“Um,” I said. “Yeah, okay. Sure. Thank you.” I immediately cringed. Dammit! I felt a tiny tug as part of me was anchored to Ben by the admission of debt. Dammit dammit dammit, and I was doing so good! Fortunately — or maybe unfortunately, in the grander scheme of things — that tension almost immediately vanished as the anchored bit of my aura was pulled out of one of the rents in my soul. I breathed out and tried not to shiver. I hadn’t even had a chance to repay that before it had been pulled away… I needed to patch up the rest of my soul, soon.
Ben didn’t seem to notice anything. He just smiled at me. Then he folded the umbrella and passed it to Sam. After his assistant took it, Ben offered me his arm and started walking me to the elevators. Sam stayed behind.
The elevator ride was quiet, but awkward. The sensation of losing a bit of my soul to an accidental thank you had provided a significant distraction from the gutter my mind had been in earlier. I wasn’t sure what to do about it, though. I couldn’t fix those tears without being dormant, and I wasn’t keen on asking anyone to shoot me in the head or anything. I started chewing on my lower lip.
The sudden vacancy in my soul had also given me a moment’s reprieve from the realization that I’d just gotten into a small, sealed box with a mostly strange man who had managed to get me far too worked up for my own good, and who I already knew had tried to kill me once and expressed an ongoing interest in opening my veins. Fortunately, by the time that realization struck the doors were already opening onto the second floor.
I bolted out of the elevator fast enough that Ben was dragged after me.
He laughed. “Woah,” he said. “It’s daytime, Abby. Try not to burn all your energy in one go.”
I looked at him. If there was a way to go dormant without being shot or waiting for the next sunrise, he’d probably know about it, right? Before I could ask, though, Ben pointed down the hall.
“Looks like your room is this way,” he said. Ben started down the hall, letting me slide my arm free of his. I followed behind him and struggled to get my thoughts in order.
Ben stopped in front of the door to room two-seventeen. “And here we are. I’ll leave you to your privacy, but when you’re ready you can find me in room four-twelve.”
I bit down hard on my lip. The brief pain cut through my rambling thoughts. Don’t say thank you, I told myself firmly. “Th… that sounds like a plan,” I said. Dammit, Abby! I wanted to smack myself on the forehead. Not just for almost slipping up again, but for sounding so… so banal. What was it with Ben that kept making me so scatterbrained? Just because he was kind of cute and alarmingly attractive at times and… oh.
Well, crap. I’d realized that I was fixated on sharing blood with Ben. That had been obvious. But when had I started thinking he was kind of attractive? And now, here I was, outside a hotel room. Like that didn’t have connotations. I swallowed.
Alright, so I though Ben was cute. Attractive, even, in an ‘I am a dorky punk rock vampire’ sort of way. Was I going to own it or was I going to chicken out? I didn’t know. I couldn’t answer my own question, but I did know that the only way I’d screw up worse than trying would be to not try and let my self-destructive tendencies make the decision for me. I pulled together every scrap of imaginary courage that I could find, and then let it go. I rode the wave of emotion and hoped it wouldn’t wind up doing as much damage as a tsunami.
I reached up and caught Ben by the shirt. I drove him backward until his shoulders hit the wall opposite my door. “One hour,” I let my autopilot say.
Ben blinked in surprise. “What?”
“One hour,” my autopilot repeated. “I told you I was gross. I need a shower.” I’d also told him that I usually made out with people after feeding and that I knew he wanted to bite me. “So I’m going to do that, and you’re going to be back in one hour so we can finish that conversation we were having about my feeding habits.” Oh god. I was already out of imaginary courage, but my autopilot was still coasting on the determination I’d tried to pull together. I tilted my head and raised my eyebrows. “Got it, Ben?”
Ben took in a deep breath. I think my being forceful threw him off kilter, because he was more dorky punk than suave seducer when he blurted: “Oh. Yeah. Absolutely. One hour.”
I let go of Ben’s shirt. I dropped my arm to my side and turned around. I did my best not to think about what I’d just done or how I looked or anything as I walked back to my room. Somehow that walk turned into a saunter anyway. There was way more sway in my hips than necessary. I opened the door and stepped through. I can’t believe I just did that, I thought. I was impressed with myself.
Oh, inside I was wound as tight as a violinist’s bowstring, but I knew from years of experience that none of my anxiety was showing on the outside. I let the door swing shut behind me. The lock clicked softly — more obviously, to my super senses, the rest of the outside world abruptly vanished from my hearing. I was alone and sealed off in a warded space that supernatural senses couldn’t spy into.
My hands started shaking and I stumbled further into the room. I dropped Emma’s clothes on the first table I came across and then sat on the floor next to the bed. I can’t believe I just did that! This time the thought was appropriately panicked.
Holy fucking shit, what the hell did I just do?