Of course, I didn’t get to relax in peace. No sooner had I sprawled out than I heard Melvin chuckle in the seat next to me. I yelped and rolled over, scrambling to sit up. Dammit, Melvin! I shouted at him in my head. I hated that he didn’t really have a physical body: it made it way too easy for him to sneak around being creepy. And he really didn’t need the help.
Melvin’s eyes glinted with their usual combination of sleaze and malevolence, and he grinned an entirely too self-satisfied grin in response. He loved fucking with me almost as much as he loved…
Wait. A sense of shock cut the thought short and washed all other thought away. My eyes widened as I stared at Melvin — and it had nothing to do with my being pissed off about him being a creepy creeper.
I had just figured out what had struck me as wrong when I’d fed on him before entering the church. Oh my god, I thought.
Melvin’s self-satisfied smirk turned slightly uncertain. Abigail? He thought at me.
I continued to stare. I wanted to say something, but my mouth refused to form words. You don’t love me, I thought back at him, instead.
He snorted. His momentary concern vanished and he sprawled back in his seat, a sardonic, patronizing smile gracing his lips. Yes, he mentally agreed. I do believe that has been the gist of my protests every time you’ve claimed otherwise.
I barely even noticed the snark. Melvin didn’t love me. But he did love someone. I’d felt how he was in love. I’d felt his essence resonating as I drew it into me. I’d thought it was resonating because of me, because I was the object of his emotion’s fixation.
But every time I’d fed from him — at least, every time before topping off to enter the church — I’d been near starving. My aura had been drained. I hadn’t even been my real, fully actualized self. And the sliver of faerie soul that formed the core of my curse had been at its most exposed. And that was what the emotions I’d drained from Melvin had resonated toward.
The thought was mind-numbing. I wasn’t sure if I was terrified by it, or just in shock. I couldn’t stop myself from blurting it out, regardless.
“You’re in love with Megan,” I gasped.
Melvin recoiled as though slapped. Apparently my being wrong about him being in love with me was funny — my being right about the person he was enamored with was not. But now that I’d thought it, I couldn’t stop seeing it: every time I’d fed on him when starving — when the weave was most likely to confuse me for Megan — I’d felt his love. I hadn’t when I’d just been topping off. That was what had felt wrong with the essence I drew in from his blood, then.
But it wasn’t just that. There was the willingness with which he’d bound himself to her. Holy fuck: there was the way he — as “Zane” — had blushed when Megan kissed him on New Year’s Eve. What was wrong with me?! I’d seen it then, even if I hadn’t known that Melvin had replaced Zane at the time. How could I not have realized it afterward?
I stared at Melvin with wide eyes. “Holy fuck,” I reiterated. “Does she know?” More questions spewed forth as I started babbling in shock. “For how long? Is that why you volunteered to guard her while she was away from her father’s kingdom? Oh my god! Is that why you replaced Zane to begin with? Because you couldn’t manifest around her because she didn’t believe in faeries yet?!”
Abruptly a ward sprung up around the limo’s passenger compartment, cutting off the sound of Benny questioning Fiore about what was going to be done next. I jumped, startled by the abrupt reduction in noise — not that I had been paying attention, anyway, in light of what I’d just realized about Melvin.
My blood went cold. Melvin had cast that ward. Probably just because I was being really loud about his personal matters while there were lots of people with supernatural hearing around. But even if it was probably just because he wanted privacy, it didn’t stop me from panicking about the fact that I was now trapped behind a ward with a faerie sadist who was probably more than a little pissed that I’d been revealing his secrets willy nilly to the world.
I cringed back against the seats opposite from Melvin. Oh shit. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. When would I learn to keep my stupid mouth shut?! Melvin crossed over to me. He had to hunch because of the limousine’s ceiling, but that just made him seem bigger in the confined space available. His face and limbs were still haggard from letting me feed on him repeatedly, which gave him a dangerous, knife-like appearance. In the poor lighting, he actually looked a lot more like a goblin than an elf, for once.
“Abigail,” he said softly. “I would appreciate it if you kept your speculations about matters that don’t concern you to yourself.”
My heart was pounding. “Sure,” I heard myself say on autopilot. “But Megan is my girlfriend, so this one kind of does concern me. Hell, it would anyway because I care about her, and you are freaking terrifying.” Oh, fuck me, I thought. Why couldn’t I just keep quiet?!
Well, Melvin thought as he leaned over me. If that is the price of your silence on the matter, I’m certain something can be arranged.
I squeaked out loud. He’s just trying to intimidate me. You’re just trying to intimidate me. Stop it! Unfortunately, the command just made Melvin’s lip curl as he shrugged it off. He’d been right: with my aura full, I couldn’t order him around — not now that my shard of Megan’s soul was buried in the center of my soul and he had realized what allowed me to compel him in the first place.
“My interest will bring no harm to Lady Megan,” Melvin said firmly. “And I realize the inappropriateness of pursuing it while she is my liege. I lived through a time when unrequited love between a knight and his lady was the romantic ideal, Abigail. I will not complicate Megan’s life further by advancing my suit upon her — but she is a modern woman, and I doubt that she will let it go so peaceably if she were to be aware of the matter. Do you understand my desire for you to keep this to yourself, now?”
I nodded frantically. Of course, at that point I would have agreed to anything just to get him to back the fuck off. Scary supernatural men looming over me while giving off their most dire, terrifying vibes tripped my panic response hardcore. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. Fortunately, that seemed to suffice for Melvin — because in the back of my subconscious, where I do most of my thinking while the rest of me panics, my brain was churning away feverishly and I had no idea what was going to come out of there next because I was too busy fucking panicking.
Melvin’s concern about complicating Megan’s life was bullshit, of course. I knew that: if he professed his undying love to her, all she had to do was say ‘too bad’ or ‘yay’ and that would be that. His feelings were his problem, and there was no way they would complicate Megan’s life as much as they did his life, if they were to be known. Why, Orlina would probably flip out — even if what Melvin had said about only being Orlina’s friend was true, she was still Megan’s pseudo-sister. I knew I’d flip out if I found out that Melvin was interested in my pseudo-sister. Although, I’d probably be flipping out more about the discovery that I had a pseudo sister, so…
“Right,” I babbled. “Okay. Unrequited love for the win. No problem.” My eyes widened just a little as a spark of hope took hold. “Does this mean you won’t be hitting on me anymore?” I knew the truth, so there was no reason for him to pretend he was interested in me if he wasn’t. Right?
“Oh heavens no,” Melvin purred. “Why ever would it mean that?” He smiled at me and leaned in a little closer. “I’ve told you I don’t love you — but I could. And you are fun, Abigail. If I must suffer the boredom of being responsible in regards to my feelings toward Lady Megan, than I will at least have the entertainment of seeing where this relationship goes.” He leaned closer — dangerously closer. His lips hovered far, far too near to mine.
“You’re fucking with me,” I said. He’s fucking with me! Wasn’t he? Yes, of course he was.
Melvin’s lips quirked. “Perhaps, my delectable danish. And if nothing more comes of it, I will always have that.” His eyes sparkled with something I couldn’t identify. Amusement? Desire? “But I have never lied when I spoke of how admirably you play the game, Abigail. If something comes of our playing it together, well… I look forward to it. After all, the things you have accomplished are extraordinary! You are turning the world on its head. Two worlds!” He chuckled. “An entire faerie court, at your command. And how many werewolves can you compel, now? And you got that nephilim to give you his name!” Melvin laughed aloud. “I’m almost beginning to think that you are better at trapping people in geases than I am.”
What? “What?” I yelped. “I’m not trying to trap anyone!” I protested. I wasn’t! And… Wait, what the fuck is a nephilim?
Melvin’s expression turned somber. The asshat was still watching my thoughts, apparently. “The nephilim is what I followed you to discuss, Abigail,” he said. He smirked. “I thought you might not have known what you had done,” he added with a chuckle.
“According to mortal recollection,” Melvin explained, “nephilim originated from ‘the sons of god’ joining with ‘the daughters of man.’ Their descendants, however, need not be female. They are rare in this age, but dangerous. So be careful of that one. You cannot trust what his leyline reveals to you, even if you hold his name. He possesses two souls, just as it seems you do — but while your second soul is buried within you, his wraps around him like armor. It will act on his behalf, regardless of any compulsions you place upon him — and despite the shining reputation they have among mortals, angels are rarely so kind to others of a supernatural bent.”
I gawked. What. Was he talking about Benny? And… an angel? Like, an honest to god angel?!
Melvin shrugged. “Mortal scholars who don’t know better frequently mistake the ‘joining’ as one of a sexual nature, and think that the nephilim were the descendants of those unions. In truth, the union is more like that between a were and his wolf. The nephilim are mortals who have a guardian angel bound to them. A long, long time ago, they were the ones who stood against us when we sought to harvest mortal auras.” Melvin’s lips thinned. “They are a fading breed in this age, but still: be careful, my Abigail.”
I swallowed. “Why are you telling me this?” I asked. That wasn’t what I’d meant to ask. I’d meant to ask: holy fucking shit, are you serious?! But that was what had come out instead.
Melvin’s lips curled up in his usual smirk. His fingertips suddenly caressed my cheek, making me gasp in surprise. “Because, my Abigail,” he purred, “as you yourself pointed out: it would do Lady Megan great harm if anything were to happen to you. And since I am oath-bound to protect her from such harm, warning you is really the least I could do in this matter.”
Then Melvin leaned his forehead against mine. The action pushed back the brim of his tophat. His eyes trapped mine. “And besides,” he murmured, “since there can be no geases between us — or at least, not binding you to me — anything I can offer to secure your debt-free gratitude is quite valuable. Someday,” he concluded after planting a kiss on my cheek, “you may even deign to pay me back of your own free will.” His voice filled with implied innuendo as his lips turned to my ear. “And that day,” he whispered, “I very much look forward to.”
And then Melvin vanished in a swirl of black fog, leaving his words lingering in my ears but taking his wards with him. The noise of the outside world rushed back into the limo and washed over me. I barely even noticed, though. I was too busy trying to control my ragged breathing and ignore the way my cheek felt like it was burning — and wondering what the fuck I was going to do about Melvin now.