Pips. The abrupt realization that Benjamin’s liaison with the faeries was Pipsqueak was jarring enough to disrupt the barrier I’d put up to reinforce my emotions. I whipped my head around the room, looking for him. What will he look like? I didn’t know. He had a new form: one stolen from my nightmares.
On my second pass of desperately looking, I caught Pipsqueak materializing out of the air. My breath caught. He looked normal. Average height and appearance. Dark hair, slightly unkempt. He was wearing jeans, brown shoes, and a polo shirt. He had cat-slit eyes and slight points to his ears like Melvin did, but otherwise I wouldn’t have thought anything of seeing him walking around in public.
Oh fuck, I thought. Pipsqueak looked normal. Everyone knows that the really psychotic murdering rapist cannibals look normal.
Pipsqueak smiled broadly after he finished forming himself. “Hello, Benjamin,” he said with a slight accent that I couldn’t place. Shit fuck, my brain responded even as I fidgeted in response to the way accents always plucked something indecent in myself. An accent, too? And now that I was paying attention, Pipsqueak didn’t just look normal: he was kind of cute. He wasn’t super tall like Hans, but there was some definite musculature under that polo shirt, and he had a smile that was just perfect for luring people into saying ‘yes’ to things that would land them in a dark, sound proof basement. Oh, fuckity fuck fuck fuck: I do not need this!
“Pips,” Benjamin answered him. “We have a message that needs to be delivered.” He started to say something else, but I jumped in.
“Pipsqueak!” I hollered to interrupt Ben. Sending Pips to talk to Daniel was a bad, bad, bad idea. Calling Pipsqueak’s attention to myself when he was purpose-built to freak me out was probably not a good one, either. Too late now, I told myself. Say something else! I mentally yelled at myself when Pips looked my way and my mouth went dry. I tried, I really did, but my jaw just clicked shut around a tongue that seemed too thick to articulate words.
“Abigail,” Pipsqueak purred. He sounded genuinely pleased to see me, in a starkly sadistic and clearly sexual sort of way. I stopped breathing before I could start having trouble with it. “What a pleasure to see you again. We should talk, soon — but at the moment I have a duty to see to. Perhaps we can arrange a date later?” He turned back to Ben after leaving his accent to do its thing with my libido. Goddamit, me! Why did I have to have a thing for accents?! And, wait: had he just sort of asked me out on a date, or just meant we had to set a date to talk? “Now, pray tell,” Pips asked Ben, “what is this message about?”
About. My stomach dropped. Pips had pronounced it like ‘a boot’. Is that accent Canadian? I was having trouble with my heart rate, so I gave up on not breathing and took a deep breath to try and calm it down. I was still too alive to actually stop it with any sort of ease. Oh no, please don’t let that be Canadian, I plead, even as I added ‘white slave trader’ to the list of things that Pips had probably managed to roll into this particular form. I felt the blood drain from my face. He’s a cute, well-muscled Canadian cannabalistic murdering rapist white slave trader faerie. Fuck me, this is bad.
“Actually, I’m the one who needs you to deliver a message,” I blurted before Benjamin could explain. “I want you to go check with Megan and Emma about having Valerie here stop in for a visit.” I pointed at the vampiress in question. Pipsqueak turned to look, and so he missed the startled glance that Ben gave me.
After giving Valerie an appraising once over, Pipsqueak unfortunately turned his attention back to me. “Of course,” he said. “Is there… anything… else?”
I swallowed. Benjamin frowned at the way Pipsqueak drew out the word ‘anything.’ I had to agree: it had sounded more than slightly indecent.
“No,” I squeaked. “That will be all.”
Pipsqueak smiled and bowed to me. He disappeared in swirl of shadows. I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d still been holding and leaned back against Benjamin’s pillows. I stared at the ceiling and tried to get my heartbeat under control. I have got to do something about Pips, I told myself. I added it to the ‘things I need to take care of’ list. I put a copy of it on the ‘things to freak out about’ list. Then I bumped it up to the top.
“What was that about?” Ben asked.
I twisted my head to face him. “That was the faerie that was feeding on Daniel when I met him,” I said. “Reid must have recruited him after I went to see Archarel.” I felt more than a little sick to my stomach, and I hadn’t even eaten anything real today. “I didn’t think it would be a good idea to use him to send all the phone numbers and stuff to Daniel.”
“Oh,” Ben said. “I had no idea.”
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t have expected you to,” I said. He also apparently had no idea that Pipsqueak had raped my subconscious and supposedly put together a form based on my greatest fears. From what I’d seen — and heard — so far, he’d managed to do a pretty good job. Crap, and I bet his new alter ego’s occupation is taxi driver.
“Uh-huh,” Valerie chimed in. “Probably not. But what was all the blatant innuendo about?” Her voice took on a teasing quality: a more harmless version of sadistic glee. “Does Ben have a rival already?”
“No!” I yelped. “I mean: yes,” I hastily corrected myself. “But not Pips. Hans.” Insofar as it counted as a rival when Hans had openly said he was fine with me having additional relationships. “Pips just does that because he knows it makes me uncomfortable.” I think. “And he’d like to see me sold to Canadian lumberjacks to be used as bait for the Chupacabracorn.” Oh god, what if he’d come back as the Chupacabracorn? That would have been… Wait. He said he got the form of my greatest fear. What if he picked up more than one? Oh, holy shit: What if he is the Chupacabracorn? He was a shapeshifter, after all. There was nothing to stop Pipsqueak from terrorizing Canada, then kidnapping me, selling me to the lumberjacks, then…. I swallowed. I did not want to think about that.
It did make for a tidy little scheme, though. He’d get the energy from feeding off of the people he terrorized as the Chupacabracorn. He’d get to take me out. And he’d get paid to do it.
Am I being paranoid?
“The what?” Ben asked blankly.
“The Chupacabracorn!” I yelled as I sat up. I was getting a little frantic, I could tell. Being paranoid wasn’t helping.
Ben glanced at Valerie. She shrugged. “I’ve never heard of it, either,” she said.
“It’s the bastard offspring of a moose, a unicorn, and a chupacabra,” I hastily explained. “It’s pure evil. They terrorize the wilds of Canada, specifically going after virgins and lumberjacks.” And god help you if you’re a virgin lumberjack. “No one ever realizes what they are until it’s too late,” I continued. “I’m pretty sure they can turn invisible,” I added as I tried to remember everything I’d ever told Megan about Chupacabracorn lore. “The only way to lure one out into the open is to offer up a virgin as a sacrifice, and the only way to get rid of one is to get it drunk on maple syrup and then leave it in the woods far far away from you after it falls asleep and hope it doesn’t find its way back.” They usually didn’t, though. Once someone knew how to exploit their weakness for maple syrup they were smart enough to move on.
“I… I don’t think that’s a thing that is real,” Ben said. I shook my head vehemently.
“Oh, they’re real,” I said. I can’t believe I brought a Chupacabracorn into the world. “Never doubt that.” I’m so sorry, Canada.
“Well,” Valerie said dryly. “I can see that Ben needs to step up his game, then.”
“What?” Ben asked. He was clearly getting more lost as the conversation continued.
Valerie leaned toward him. She held up one hand so I couldn’t see her lips and whispered “She’s a virgin, Casanova. Otherwise she wouldn’t be acceptable bait.” Of course, since we were all vampires here, whispering was about as effective as shouting.
My eyes went wide. So did Ben’s. But my cheeks were the ones that flared up in a blush. Oh my god, I thought, my vampire mentor is a social sadist. Even though her hand was still up, I could see from the sparkle in Valerie’s eyes that she was grinning at causing our fits of awkward discomfort.
“Sebas,” I squeaked when I tried to make a reply. What? Why… oh. I needed my butler to play chaperone. Also, we still had to get Daniel everyone’s phone numbers and let him know that Hans needed to talk to him. Sebastian could carry that message after serving as a buffer between Valerie, Ben, myself, and all the awkward.
A sudden crescendo of thunder and trumpeting fanfare made me shriek and jump in place. Ben jumped too, but other than jerking her head toward the noise Valerie was able to mask any reaction. Sebastian appeared at the source of the noise, dressed in his immaculate butler’s attire.
“Yes, Miss Abigail?” Sebastian inquired.
“What… why… don’t…” My heart was thumping like crazy just from the noise frightening me. I’d say out of my wits, but I was pretty sure those had taken a leave of absence about when Pipsqueak showed up. Behind me, I heard Valerie snerk as a laugh threatened to escape her.
“You did tell him to announce his presence next time,” she observed.
I looked back and forth between her and Sebastian. Sebastian’s face didn’t betray a hint of amusement. He was playing the consummate straight man, to Valerie’s clear amusement.
“Right,” I managed to say. “Yes. Okay.” I will ignore that. After all, I had no idea how to deal with it. I swallowed again and willed myself to put together a more than one word sentence. “I’m going to need you to deliver a message to a friend of mine,” I finally got out. “His name is Daniel, and he was there last night so he should have a liaison like everyone else, if that helps.”
Sebastian nodded. “And that message would be..?”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Right. Just a moment.” I got up and went to the desk beside Valerie. Fortunately, the hotel had left out a complimentary notepad and some pens with their name and contact info next to the phone. “I need to you to tell Daniel to get in contact with me, or with Hans, or with John.” I took the phone Ben had given me and pulled up the contacts list. I wrote down John’s number, then looked up the number of my phone and added that as well. “I don’t have Hans’ number, but John said he’d be with them shortly. The top number is John’s and the bottom one is mine.” I frowned, then took a moment to label them both before tearing the note off of the pad and holding it out to Sebastian.
Sebastian came over and took the note. “Will there be anything else?” Sebas asked.
“Um.” I said. I looked at Ben and Valerie, but neither of them said anything. “No?”
“Very good, Miss.” Sebastian bowed slightly, then disappeared in anther swoosh of shadows — this one silent.
After a moment, Benjamin broke the silence. “And who was that?” I knew he had heard Sebastian before, when we’d been back at Katherine and Emma’s place. But I guess I hadn’t actually introduced them.
“Her butler,” Valerie answered before I could. She still sounded amused and I started blushing again from good old fashioned awkward embarrassment. I really wasn’t that hoity-toity, dammit! “I don’t think you’re going to be able to impress this one with the family fortune,” Valerie added teasingly. I started blushing harder.
“No,” Ben agreed dryly. He glanced sideways at Valerie. “But fortunately that was never the plan to begin with,” he added.
“That’s good,” I said. “I mean, I’m not really impressed with money.” I wasn’t particularly, either. Or: I didn’t think so, anyway. “I mean, I’d rather have a good cheeseburger. At least you can eat that. Don’t you think it would be easier if people told you how much things cost in terms of cheeseburgers? I suppose that would mean we’d have to start paying people in burgers, too. But I mean, then you could look at a purchase and know exactly how much food you’d be giving up to make it.” Oh, hell, I was rambling. At least I wasn’t talking about cannibals or aliens yet. Alien cheeseburgers? Is that why they keep abducting our cows?! Craaaaap…. I threw as much of my willpower as I could into not speculating about that out loud.
“Of course,” I continued to ramble, “that saying about flushing money down the toilet wouldn’t make as much sense — that would be what would happen if you kept the cheeseburgers, instead. Literally.” I shrugged, but inside I felt like I was shrinking. Well played, Abby. You avoided talking about alien cheeseburgers by talking about shit instead. Literally. “But at least people would be motivated to keep money in circulation or in their stomachs. No one wants stale cheeseburgers.”
I tried to make myself stop, but managed only to smile like a pained idiot, instead. “Speaking of which,” I continued on autopilot, “is anyone hungry?” I hastily backtracked. “I mean: for food food, not blood food. I haven’t eaten anything real since…. I’m not sure.” I hadn’t had anything last night or yesterday. I’d been dormant the day before that. I hadn’t had anything the night prior to that except Pipsqueak, and I hadn’t eaten at the restaurant with Mom and Dad. In fact, I didn’t think I’d stopped to eat real food since the last time Hans made me breakfast. No wonder my stomach was doing weird flips. Maybe I wasn’t scared and freaked out: maybe I was just hungry.
“I could get something,” Ben said. I looked at him gratefully. I knew he had enough Abby-insight to recognize freaked out rambling if he saw it. He’d probably only chimed in to interrupt me, even. I should probably show him some gratitude. I was grateful. What would be an appropriate way to show that while Valerie was in the room? It wasn’t like I could just make out with him. Dammit, Ben! Why did he have to keep trying to make me make out with him? Especially when there were other people around?! I was not going to start a three-way with him and Valerie, even if the two of them had a long standing friendship. She was my mentor, not my lover, and she was interested in my dad, not me, and….
“Great!” I said enthusiastically. As desperate as I was to stop that line of thought, the enthusiasm wasn’t even faked as it gave me something new to focus on. I stepped up toward Ben and was briefly terrified that I was about to fail to give him an appreciative kiss on the cheek and instead stick my tongue in his mouth or something. Instead, I pushed him toward the door. “You do that. Add extra bacon on mine. And a milkshake. That would be wonderful. I really appreciate it,” I babbled as I opened the door and shoved him into the hallway. Then I closed the door. Then I stared at it.
“You just kicked Ben out of his own room,” Valerie pointed out as though I hadn’t realized it myself. My stomach sank again.
“Yeah,” I said. I was already trying to ignore that: now that Ben was out of the room, my erratic thoughts had swerved back to something higher up on my freak out list. If only I could just use a leyline or something to find that person for Hans, maybe I’d actually be doing some good for someone for once. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a connection to the person. Hans did. I’d need to be able to borrow his or something.
I froze. “Oh my god,” I said. “I’m an idiot.”
Valerie laughed, and my cheeks heated up as the automatic embarrassment over realizing someone was laughing at my rambling set in. Plus it’s always embarrassing when someone laughs at you, for any reason. “A little flighty, maybe, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say you’re an idiot,” she opined.
I pivoted to stare at Valerie. How did she know what I’d just…. oh, wait. She was still talking about Ben. Or maybe cheeseburger currency. And that confirms it, I thought in a total non sequitur. My vampire mentor is definitely a social sadist. Or an economist.
“No,” I said. “Not with Ben. Or food. I mean: yes, I am an idiot with guys. And I do like a good burger.” I waved a hand as though I could knock those words out of the air. “But we’re not on that right now. I’m an idiot because faeries can follow other people’s leylines.” Mr. Eyelids had said so: Katherine had used her hate of me to send an army of fae after me. The ones that had cornered Melvin and I in that alley the other night. “I shouldn’t be sending faeries off to deliver phone numbers and messages to people,” I said. “I should be getting them to follow Hans’ connection to whoever he cursed, so that we can go straight to them.“