I wasn’t pacing for long before Ben showed up. The elevator dinged and I whirled around. Sure enough Benjamin stepped out. He caught my gaze and smiled. It was the sort of smile that you see on a man who is far too confident in himself. It was exactly the sort of expression that wound me up inside. It was exactly the sort of winding up that made me freak out. And unfortunately for both of us, freaking out is exactly what let my autopilot call the shots.
Then he sauntered up to me, grinning the entire way. I was sure he had something incredibly suave and charming and probably borderline sexy to say. So naturally before he could open his mouth I burst out with: “I know your weakness.”
Ben stopped short. “My… what?” He asked.
“Your weakness,” I repeated. “I figured it out.”
Gee, I thought. I sound awfully smug for a lunatic.
Ben managed to regain a bit of his equilibrium and used it to favor me with that grin again. “And what, pray tell, might that be?” Then, before I could answer, he whispered something so quiet that even with my supernatural hearing I almost couldn’t hear it.
“You, perhaps?” Ben’s teasing, suggestive tone caressed my ears. There was a dorky curve to his grin, though, and and a little amusement to the glint in his eye. Blood flushed my cheeks and pounded in my eardrums. I wasn’t sure if he was being corny or being seductive, teasing me or teasing me.
At the same time, the paranoid part of me that guarded against the unsavory motivations of predatory carnalvores noted: Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it quietly enough that the other vampires can’t hear. Because he doesn’t want them to know. Because, let’s face it: you are not a catch. It’s about blood for him, not relationships. Flirting is just a means to an end, Abby. I felt a brief tremble in my legs. Part of me wanted my paranoia to just shut up and let me enjoy the ride — but my insecurities weighed in on my paranoia’s side.
He’s had my blood. He knows exactly how broken I am, I realized. There’s no way he’d be seriously into me after that. The combined thoughts were enough to push aside the protests of the part of me that just wanted to feel wanted, and the flush that tinged my cheeks became one of shamed mortification instead of flattered, embarrassed desire. I would have seen it if not for the siren call of shared blood, I told myself to try to salvage some of my self-respect. But then again, without that call Ben wouldn’t be showing any interest in me at all, now.
I was being played. I’d just been too panicked about being shut up in a small space with a scary man to have figured it out before. I sucked in a breath and tried to calm my heartbeat. I knew it had to be thrumming just as loudly in Benjamin’s ears as it was mine, which didn’t help me at all. I was panicking again. I was going to do something really stupid, really soon. I could feel it: the impending breaking point where I started blurting out the really crazy shit and embarrassing myself in front of everyone. I was familiar enough with the feeling that most of the time I took it as my cue to run away from the current social gathering and hide in a bathroom.
I took two quick steps back to my door and thumbed my keycard into place. It beeped and I popped it open. “You know, we should discuss this in private,” I heard myself say — and I realize that I’d tugged Ben along with me. What? When had I grabbed his hand? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to get behind the wards before I said or did something really neurotic. I yanked Ben into my room and pushed the door shut behind him.
Oh shit, oh shit oh shit oh shit. I had a vampire in my room. Crap on a… why had I brought Ben with? Because I had something to talk about with him.
What was that again?
And why the heck did Ben make me so scatterbrained?! I mean: Hans was huge and hot and scary and he could make me panic but I didn’t get stupid around him. Not stupider than normal, anyway. But when Ben got me off balance it was like I couldn’t think straight. Which was total bullshit and completely unfair, and the only thing I had going for me was that I seemed to be able to do it to him, too.
That was his weakness, actually. Whenever I got aggressive, he lost all his traction and turned into a dork.
While I’d been floundering mentally Ben had been pulling his equilibrium back together. I was made aware of this when his free hand cupped my cheek and tilted my face toward his. There’s that glint again, I thought.
“Abigail,” Ben started to say — and I knew I had to interrupt him. I knew if he got going he’d wind up saying stuff about souls and understanding me and somehow make me get totally seduced. Even with my brain reduced to so much fluff that was enough for me to panic hardcore.
So I grabbed him by his shirt, yanked him close and shut his mouth by covering it with mine.
It wasn’t a well thought out plan, but I think it was well executed. Probably because of all that practicing with Emma. Ben’s mouth was still partially open from talking, so I slipped my tongue between his lips.
Just for a second. Just to check for fangs, I swear!
Ben’s body tensed with shock, and then he took a half step closer and caught me around the waist. Ben tugged me against himself and I let out a yelp of surprise that might’ve come out like a moan since it was so muffled. Ben certainly seemed to find it encouraging, because he started kissing me back in earnest. I let my body be mashed against his and whimpered against his lips.
Ben kissed differently than Hans and Emma. He didn’t use tongue like Emma did, and he didn’t bite like Hans. His mouth closed and he pressed his lips hard against mine. They didn’t convey his hunger so much as the rest of him did: my body had melted against his, and his seemed to practically vibrate from the tension of wound muscles held just barely back from some sort of violent release.
Oh my god, part of me thought, what if he wants to rip off my clothes? Or throw me on the bed? Or tear open my throat? My heartbeat thrummed in my eardrums. Ben’s was utterly absent. Does that mean he’s hungry?! Did coming to get me wear him out too much? How much sun did he get?
I broke the kiss. I was desperate to reclaim control over a situation that was rapidly going way, way out of control. Ben stepped back, but the door didn’t let him go far. Still, he held me at arms length and took in a shaky breath. “Abigail,” he started to say, so I yanked him forward and kissed him again.
What? I’m pretty sure I’d decided that ‘make out with Ben’ was on my to do list. Somewhere.
This time Ben’s hands slid up my arms. His grip tightened just below my shoulders, like he couldn’t decide if he was going to pull me close or thrust me away. I could tell his fingers were going to leave bruises — but I could also tell from the tremble in his knuckles that he was holding himself back from tightening his grip further. And that. was. hot. It got me worked up at least as much as his talk about knowing me to my soul had.
If it had just been ‘I want you now’ it would have been terrifying. But it was also ‘I’m holding myself in check, because I’m not a beast.’ With a solid helping of ‘If I stop trying to hold myself back, you’re mine.’
This time when our lips parted I didn’t give Ben a chance to speak. I was not going to fall for that like I had in the car. He did not get to just seduce me like that! No way. Almost unconsciously I spun a tendril of my aura into a needle and stabbed it through the buffer of energy I was carrying, tapping into the core of emotions my vampire curse had claimed and leaning on them for support.
My fingers splayed over Ben’s chest and I shoved him back until he hit the door. He let go of my arms. I could hear his breathing and, faintly, a slow bu-bub as his heart stirred. “I told you that I usually make out with someone after I feed,” I reminded him. I scowled at his flabbergasted expression. “What?” I demanded. “Is it my fault that sex is an ‘alive’ thing?”
Shit shit shit, did I just go from making out to sex?! I felt my eyes widen as panic really set in. Unfortunately, years of being a spastic freak followed it and my autopilot swept in to save me from the embarrassment of standing around awkwardly by subjecting me to the mortification of not standing around awkwardly.
Because apparently, somewhere in the last week, my autopilot had learned that when I panicked everything went to shit until it went on the offensive, and my vampire side was just ruthless enough to help me say things to screw myself.
“I don’t know you, Ben,” I said. “I don’t know if you’re interested in me, or if this is all about blood, or what. You talk about understanding me, and you say stuff about me not being exclusive, and it makes me think maybe it isn’t just about blood for you — or that maybe all that soulful, seductive, ‘I respect your autonomy and want you anyway’ stuff is just crap you’ve learned to throw out there in the however many decades you’ve been around and catching ‘easy’ girls like me.” I shrugged. “I don’t know. But I do know that if your interest in me is just because we shared blood, then that isn’t going to cut it. If you want to try dating me… okay. You’re right. I’m not seeing anyone exclusively.”
What did I just…? Part of me thought. A part that was faster on the uptake was already going: Shut up shut up shut up! I kept on regardless. “I’m not easy, Ben,” I half-growled — even though the slower part of me went liar while the part that had tried to get me to shut up had succumbed to the inevitable and moved on to despair. Oh god, oh god oh shit oh why am I still talking? “I’m difficult,” I continued. “I’m broken. I’m fucked up and inexperienced and I’m going to fuck up all over any relationship I’m in.” And why, for the love of god, do I have to keep saying ‘fuck’ to the vampire in my bedroom? “But I will say, upfront, that if all you want from me is more of my blood then I don’t want you anywhere near me. I don’t even want to see you again. I don’t want you to be close enough to be a temptation, Ben. And if you have a problem with that then you can just bite me.”
A horrified lump rose in my throat, but somehow I swallowed it down. Why did I have to keep being so confrontational with vampires?! Couldn’t I just let the guy seduce me peaceably? “That’s an offer, Ben,” I threw out there. That’s not what I meant about not being confrontational! “Last one. If you think I don’t mean it; if you think sharing blood is enough for me just because it feels fucking amazing, then bite me and find out how I feel about it for sure.” My heart was pounding and Ben’s mouth was hanging slightly open. I could see his fangs behind his lips.
Frantic to make myself shut up even though it was too late, I withdrew the needle that served as a bridge to the most ruthless parts of me. I scraped the outer edges of my buffer and slapped the loose essence into the hole, plugging it. I physically trembled while I struggled to get my neurosis under control. “Just don’t jerk me around,” I said — and I saw a little bit of Emma in how I felt. My voice trembled, too. “My life went completely to shit, Ben, and then it ended and my unlife is insane. And I don’t need someone in it who’s just going to take advantage of me, and who’s too smooth for me to fend off.” Oh no. No no no no no…. Ben was a predator. A vampire. I knew he was a predator, and his fangs were out, and why was I confessing that I was the wounded fucking gazelle?
Ben caught my wrists and pulled my hands off of his chest. He stepped forward again and I shrank back, but he was still holding my wrists and he tugged them behind himself. Then he swept his hands forward. One around my waist; one around my shoulders. Both pinning my arms and trapping me. My heart imitated a rabbit’s: running like an innocent, terrified bunny. Lost deep, deep in the woods with only the most dangerous predator there was keeping her company.
Ben leaned forward. He didn’t kiss me. His head dipped down, along my neck. His breath caressed my skin. I trembled and didn’t say a word because I knew the only thing that would come out if I opened my mouth would be a scream. Ben’s lips caressed my skin and I could sense his fangs — like I could feel the curve of them where they lay under his lips.
That was utter bullshit, of course, but my brain didn’t care. It treated me, in graphic detail, to exactly how he was going to rip into my flesh and how I would let him and writhe in ecstasy until my own blood drowned the moans in my mangled throat. He would drink, and drink, and drink until I had used so much of my life force healing the lost blood that I had none left to give. Until I was dead and attacked him and returned the favor, trading blood in a perverse cycle of pleasure that would only end when we were both starved. Starved and ruthless and willing to murder everyone around us just to live once again. And somehow, in my sick and twisted mind, that was a good fantasy. I wanted it. I wanted Ben. Physically, the tiny sane part of me reacted by wanting to be sick, but I could do that later. Right now I was too paralyzed from being turned on and helpless and waiting.
“I told you I would only bite you again if you asked me to,” Ben whispered into my neck. His breath was hot against my skin. So hot. A cold breath might have shocked me into doing something, but this one just made a spring coil tighter inside of me. He’s supposed to be dead. That’s just unfair.
I made a noise in reply — I didn’t open my mouth, so it wasn’t a scream. It came out as a whimper.
“You asked me to,” Ben continued. His lips brushed my skin. I felt them twist as he tried to contain an expression I couldn’t even see. “You asked me to if I had a problem with you wanting something more than that.” I could feel the tension in his arms, like before, as he kept his supernatural strength from crushing me in his embrace. “I don’t,” Ben whispered fiercely.
While my brain was reeling in surprise and bloody, beautiful, horrifying fantasies Ben kissed my neck. Once. Then he straightened and leaned back so he could transfix my eyes with his.
“Call me old fashioned,” Ben said, “but I don’t have a problem with taking my partners seriously or offering and expecting commitment and understanding and caring between myself and them.” He leaned forward so that his forehead rested against mine. “And if you’re okay with accepting my word on that,” he said, “then I’m okay with taking you at your word without verifying it in blood. Because when I told you that I wasn’t going to bite you unless you asked me to, I really did mean that I wouldn’t do it unless you wanted me to, too.”
I opened my mouth. My brain felt a little fuzzy. I felt a little overwhelmed. I didn’t scream, though. I didn’t say anything, either. I didn’t have words for the way my thoughts — my heart? my emotions? — were fluttering. God dammit, Ben, was the one coherent thought that surfaced. Why had I let him start talking? Stop seducing me! He was way too good at it. It wasn’t fair.
Ben must have been psychic, because he shut up.
He kissed me again, instead.