I was so excited I didn’t even wait for Valerie’s reaction. I started pacing. Who can I call for this? I didn’t really want to interrupt Reid if he was still with my dad. Sebas had already been dispatched to find Daniel. Pips… no way in hell. “Melvin,” I half shouted. “Would you mind coming by for a moment?” I didn’t want to order him too — he might’ve told vamp-me that he wasn’t going to deliberately twist my commands around, but I still didn’t want to annoy him. Especially since I’d apparently done something to wig him out this morning, and I still wasn’t entirely sure what. I mean, it’s not like he hasn’t already given me blood a couple of times before.
God, was I really so far gone that I didn’t automatically realize that drinking someone’s blood was enough to achieve wig-out status on its own?
Worse, thinking about the encounter in the bedroom on the faerie side of Katherine’s portal made my face flush. Why does this bother me so much? I wondered. So Melvin was scared of me. That was probably good — it might keep him from trying to mess with me more. And it wasn’t like I even liked Melvin. He was the one who liked me, even if he was in denial about it! I tried to tell myself to stop it, but I couldn’t deny that a tiny part of me was concerned that Melvin would decide not to show — well, a modest part of me was concerned about that. But a tiny part of that modest part wasn’t concerned because I needed someone’s help with Hans’ problem. It was worried that Melvin wouldn’t show because I’d scared him off by being a pushy, bloodthirsty vampire.
That was disconcerting.
I told myself it was just because I didn’t want people focusing on my new bloodthirsty side instead of my normal neurotic side. Although, when I put it like that I was a bit hard pressed to really decide which left a worse impression.
“Melvin?” Valerie asked, interrupting my mental ramble. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
I hesitated. I had told Valerie about Melvin when I’d been telling her about everything I’d been through. Not all about Melvin — I’d left out the bit where I kissed him, and where he’d kissed my cheek, and unimportant details like that — but enough that she knew he was manipulative, and that he’d managed to bind me with a geas once before.
“I’m not sure who else to call on,” I admitted. “But I think…” I hadn’t exactly explained why Melvin had to do what I said, either, and I didn’t really want to go into why I thought I could sort of trust him. “…that he’ll help if only because he likes to hang around and mess with me,” I said. “And he’s loyal to Megan’s best interests, which include not throwing me under the metaphorical bus.”
Valerie looked dubious about my logic, and I was about to try and come up with a better explanation when Melvin arrived. I jumped and skittered forward: the door I’d just pushed Benjamin out through had swung open and bopped me on the butt.
“Abigail,” Melvin drawled as he stepped into the room. “You called?”
I backed up until I was side by side with Valerie. “Yes,” I said — although I was paying more attention to the brief sense of relief I got from once more having everyone in the room in sight. “I need help with something,” I said.
Melvin nodded his head, closed the door, and then leaned back against it. Doing so pushed his battered top hat forward so that its brim obscured his eyes. He paused for a moment. I felt like he was studying me, even if I couldn’t see his eyes. “How may I be of service?” he asked when I fidgeted, as though that had been the sign that the conversation should continue.
Wait. I sifted through my thoughts until I found Melvin’s leyline. It was much more easy to grasp than it should have been, given that I wasn’t dormant. He is studying me, I realized. A leyline became more prominent when it was focused upon — but either side could be the one that was doing the focusing. Now that I was paying attention to it too, the connection between us widened a little more.
Next to me Valerie shook her head. “You just told me how all of this happened,” she said, “and I still can’t believe that you have all of these faeries bending over backward for you. I mean…. they’re faeries. They’re supposed to be the stuff of nightmares!”
“I, um….” I stammered. I was too distracted by what the open leyline revealed of Melvin’s mindspace to be more coherent than that.
Melvin actually laughed in response to Valerie. “I assure you,” he said. “I am. Our Abigail just happens to have more entertaining nightmares than the stock terrors of other people.” His tone was dry and mocking — but inside Melvin’s emotions, though, a wariness that bordered on fear was still in the process of giving way to the playful smarminess I was familiar with.
What the hell? Was he actually afraid of me?
Melvin jerked as though he’d been stabbed with a pin. He scowled, and his emotions shifted slightly. No, the thought came to me — faintly — through our shared leyline. I am appropriately cautious of the vampire that has taken to wearing you to disguise its nature.
This time I was the one who was stunned. Pipsqueak had managed to shove thoughts in my head once, but when he’d done that we’d actually been touching. Of course, Melvin knew me better than Pips did, so he and I had a more established leyline to shove things through.
I immediately went into verbal overdrive in an effort to distract myself from what was happening in my head — and keep to Valerie from realizing there was insane fuckery afoot. Okay, so I probably didn’t need to keep her out of the loop. She was, after all, supposed to be my mentor. But voices in your head was definite crazy-ville stuff, even when they weren’t the result of being crazy, and I have an ingrained ‘don’t let anyone find out you’re insane’ response system.
“So,” I blurted out, “we need to find someone. Specifically, Hans needs to find someone. So I guess we need to find someone for Hans. But I don’t have a connection to the person. But Hans does. And faeries can follow other people’s leylines, right? So we need you to do that for us so we can find the person. For Hans.”
Mentally, I started screaming in panic.
Melvin made a smile that only seemed a little forced and took a few steps forward. Whoa, calm down, he thought at me. That did not help. “Wait,” he said. “You need a favor on behalf of your puppy?” He started to laugh, and that wasn’t forced at all. “I have been meaning to get him under my thumb,” he mused. I can tell that you’re you right now and not in the throes of obsessive blood lust. The tone of his thoughts made it obvious: from his point of view the blood I was obsessed with was his.
Of course you are, he thought. You went out of your way to ask for more this morning, even. You’ve gone after my blood more than any one else’s except perhaps your puppy’s. I gawked. Was that why he…. Of course, he thought before my own thoughts could even become coherent. I’d just seen you destroy a fae king! I was not about to let you sink your fangs into me again — I will not let you sink your fangs into me again! The price of breaking my geas should you insist is less than the price of being destroyed if I don’t. You are capable of becoming a dangerous woman, Abigail — but your hunger makes you a monster. And while I enjoy playing with danger, I do not take unnecessary risks when I am dealing with monsters.
Mentally, I was in shock. Melvin thought I was a monster. I couldn’t form a coherent thought to throw back. My autopilot, on the other hand, had no such problem with words. “Don’t you dare,” it growled. “Hans is off limits, buster. Besides, you wouldn’t be doing this for him: you’d be doing it for me. No one is going into debt to anyone else over this, got it?”
Melvin pouted. He actually pouted, like I was spoiling his fun. Emotionally, he had unwound enough to be enjoying himself, though. That was… actually, it wasn’t a relief. It was kind of scary in an ‘oh man, Melvin’s idea of fun is fucking creepy’ sort of a way. “If you insist,” he said. “I won’t be able to help without being closer to the person whose line I am supposed to share, though — and there is another problem. If I am unwelcome in his aura, it will work as a ward would and bar me from reading his lines.” Not you he thought. Your curse. Who you become. You are delightfully entertaining, Abigail.
“Oh,” I said aloud to Melvin’s thought while my brain switched tracks to deal with what he’d verbally told me. Hans really didn’t like Melvin. He’d shot Melvin repeatedly the last time they’d met, so Hans letting Melvin into his head probably wasn’t going to happen. I switched mental and verbal gears again. “Well, crap. But could another faerie follow Hans’ lines, then?”
Melvin nodded. “Certainly, assuming there is enough of a connection to be found.” At this point he wasn’t paying any more attention to the conversation than I was, though. Now, I’ve been thinking about what you said this morning about my needing to compromise if I’m interested in seeing where this relationship can go, he thought playfully. And for Melvin ‘playful’ and ‘sadistic’ were synonymous. So what do you think of….
Wait! I panicked, interrupting him mid-thought. Relationship?! I was not ready for another person trying to be in a relationship with me! It had been bad enough when we’d just been mutually teasing each other. Or, rather: when Melvin had been teasing/terrifying me, and my vampire side had been returning the favor with him. I thought you don’t love me. I threw at him in desperation.
I don’t, Melvin agreed. But I’m game to see what happens. Frankly, I already have to admit that I’ve rather come to admire you. I may have enslaved a vampire once, but you…! I have just spent an entire morning watching your machinations unfold, and they have put every game I have ever played to shame. I have witnessed the royal court of an entire kingdom step up to swear fealty to Lady Megan in a bid to gain her protection from you and all the while not a single one of them realized they were binding themselves to you, instead. I was justifiably annoyed when I accidentally wound up tied to you by my oath of fealty. But this? Seeing what you’ve done with that quirk of your relationship with Megan? The way you offered all those nobles — who were terrified of you! — a seemingly perfect way to escape the threat of you and preserve their current statuses…. without them knowing that they were actually installing you as their shadow queen? That was the most masterful trick I have ever seen played. So, no, Abigail. I do not love you. But I am very much willing to court you, if only — for now — to see what you might do next.
I took a deep, stunned breath. My brain shut down. Melvin’s emotions laughed in response.
Melvin rubbed his chin and took another step forward under the guise of continuing our audible conversation. “With that said,” Melvin said, “since I am not the best faerie for the job and I do have duties to attend to, I’ll let you deal with finding someone else to take care of your puppy.” And I will leave you with my proposed compromise, he added psychically.
Almost instantly he hit me with a mental image. In it I was bound hand and foot. I wasn’t wearing anything, even though there was lingerie in the image. It was even lingerie I actually owned, since it had been in the bag at Megan’s instead of my apartment during the fire. In the fantasy Melvin shared it was strewn around me instead of being on me. I wasn’t in a bedroom, but I was stretched out, lying on my back. My lips were parted around a gag — no, a ring gag — which was fixed in my mouth. An equally nude Melvin was kneeling over me, pinning me in place… but from the emotional context that came with the image I knew that he was already quite sated and I had been exhausted with pleasure to the point that I was utterly willing to do whatever he wanted, no geas needed. And for the compromise? Imaginary Melvin had lazily nicked his fingertip on one of my fangs and was tormenting me by letting the blood drip idly onto my lips — and occasionally between them. Apparently blood wasn’t off the table as far as Melvin was concerned. Just biting.
That made sense. If it was my vampire side that frightened Melvin, and he wanted to court me, then he would have a vested interest in not letting me get bloodthirsty enough to be dangerous.
I freaked out at the idea, anyway.
I didn’t even know I could withdraw from a leyline, but the connection between Melvin and I was strangled as my thoughts fled from it. The connection remained, but too thin to pull anything from or push anything through. The images Melvin had been feeding me cut off, but by then they had already given rise to my own depraved imagination. “Right,” I babbled. “You should go. Tell Megan hi for me. And Emma. Now: bye. See you later.”
“I look forward to it, my dear hemoglobin lollipop,” Melvin said.
“I’m not yours,” I protested automatically — but this time I didn’t notice the weave reacting to Melvin’s statement one way or the other. It didn’t matter, anyway, because he had already disappeared.
Valerie snorted. I looked at her like she was insane for laughing before I realized that she’d only been privy to half of the two conversations that had been going on.
“What?” Valerie protested, utterly oblivious to my state of shock. “Hemoglobin lollipop. Blood sucker. I’m totally going to use that on Matt the next time I want to tweak his nose over being too uptight.”
“Right,” I said. I am so not dealing with that right now. I wasn’t sure if I meant I wasn’t going to deal with Matteo Fiore, or Valerie teasing him, or the fantasy of Melvin doing sick and twisted things with me — which my brain was busily working on, since the one he’d shared had left out all of the details as to how I’d wound up in that situation. Or the fact that I’m apparently the shadow queen of a faerie kingdom. Forget not realizing I could get a faerie to track down Hans’ victim sooner than I had — why the fuck hadn’t I realized what setting Megan up to receive a bunch of oaths of fealty would mean?!
I hastily dug out my phone and pulled up the contacts. “Will you go ask Ben to raincheck lunch and figure out some transportation, instead?” I asked Valerie. “Melvin probably wasn’t exaggerating about having to be closer to Hans to use his leylines: One of the things that makes leylines easier to use is physical proximity. If we want this to work I think we’re going to have to go to wherever Hans is.” If only John or Hans had been there last night, I could’ve just conveyed a message to whoever their liaisons were, instead of having to have called Melvin and be confronted with this particular facet of how my life was spinning out of control. All I’d wanted to do was make sure Megan would have the resources she needed to keep herself safe from other faeries! I’d come up with the whole oath thing so that I wouldn’t have to make them swear to obey me or be destroyed!
As it was, now I’d have to hook Hans and John up with a faerie helper and messenger before I could do anything about Hans’ problem. And I had to ignore the whole shadow queen thing. Oh, I was going to ignore that so hardcore.
I told the phone to dial John’s number.
“Sure,” Valerie agreed to my request. “I’ll let Ben know what’s going on.” She left, and for a moment it was just me, my mental image of being roughly ravaged by Melvin, all the stuff I was trying desperately to ignore, and a ringing phone.
John answered on the fourth ring.
“John Salvatore spea…” he started to say.
“John,” I interrupted. Talking to John would distract me. Please, let talking to John distract me. “It’s Abigail. I think we have a way to follow leylines directly to the person Hans is trying to find, but we’re going to have to be there in order to read the connection from him to his victim. Where are you meeting up?”