I left without waiting on anyone else. John followed me, and Jacob followed him — and the other werepup scrambled to catch up with us. We all crammed into the elevator — though I think the only ones who actually felt crammed in were myself and the two ghost wolves, since we had to deal with the extra occupants. On the other hand, since no one seemed to want to walk through the ghost wolves and they were determined to stay next to me, I had a happy little buffer between myself and everyone else.
“Are you sure you want to drive?” I asked John as he hit the button for the lobby. “Fumiko offered to, if you didn’t want to cross the river tonight. I’d just need Mister Kallaher’s number, in that case.”
John snorted. “Actually,” he said, ” I would be just fine with not crossing the river again so soon. But: I know the way to Kallaher’s… and I wanted a chance to talk to you in private.”
I tried not to but I couldn’t hold back a cringe. Partially because I got an ominous feeling of dread from the way John said he’d wanted to talk to me in private, and partially because the implication was that he’d have been talking to me while driving. Fumiko was definitely going to drive now. John had talked to me while behind the wheel before, and I’d managed to let it go — but now it was clear that he was a certifiable madman.
Interestingly enough, even though my list of ‘these are bad things’ now included stuff like being framed for murder, getting shot repeatedly in the head, spontaneously combusting and having someone slice off strips of arm flesh to feed to a ravenous ghoul, not paying full attention to the road while driving was still way up at the top of it.
For a second I cherished a hope that John was going to hold off on elaborating until we reached the funeral home. After all, with the wolf pups along it wasn’t like we had that privacy he’d wanted.
My hopes were cruelly dashed just a second later.
“I wish you hadn’t invited them along,” John whispered low enough that only I could hear. Probably. I mean, we did have two proto-werewolves in the back seat.
“Me, too,” I muttered. “But what else was I supposed to do? Jacob was going to either freak out or piss someone off.”
“No, I…” John stopped whispering and sighed. It wasn’t like we could have a conversation without the werepups at least overhearing my side of it, since John didn’t seem to have super hearing himself. Plus, the two ghost wolves were doing their best to nudge each other out of the spot closest to me, but they both stopped to listen whenever I opened my mouth. John couldn’t know that, but he had to be familiar enough with Hans’ hearing to know that it was a lot sharper than any normal mortal’s. Then John reached out and held down the elevator’s ‘doors closed’ button.
“The thing is,” John said in a normal speaking voice, “I got a call from my stepmom just after sunset, while I was still keeping an eye out for Jeremy by his house. Apparently The Center is kind of freaked out over all the Directors that have died over here recently; they’ve already scrambled another one over to check into you — along with someone from Lewellyn’s family to collect his corpse. Elaine — my stepmom — is supposed to join them and handle dad’s remains.”
My heart started pounding. I reflexively curled one hand into a fist in one of the ghost wolves’ fur — Jacob’s, I think. I almost didn’t hear the rest of what John had to say, I was so overwhelmed with fuck no fuck no fuck no fuck no fuck. Another Director? I couldn’t deal with having to kill another fucking Director! Couldn’t they just give me one damn night in peace?! It was enough to make me want to cry. Didn’t they realize that after I raided a cadaver for meat I was supposed to go hang out with Fumiko and Megan and Cassie and Jamie and have a normal girl’s night in?!
“…But I’d already told her about everything you’ve been through,” John continued blithely. Then he trailed off and cleared his throat. He glanced my way for a second. I couldn’t meet his gaze, so I flicked mine to the two werepups. They were very clearly listening. Jacob seemed captivated, bordering on eager. The girl seemed more appropriately horrified by all our casual mention of deaths and corpses. I’m not sure what John saw on my face, but he pushed the rest of what he had to say out in a rush.
“She wants to meet you,” John blurted. “She told the Director that she had something to take care of before she could meet up with him — but she was already on her way to The Center because I’d called her when I felt dad die, and then she diverted her last flight when I told her about Lewellyn. So, she’s offering to show up, by herself, wherever and whenever you want. You know, as a sign of good faith? And so she can get a sense of you — and vice versa — without you being on the defensive because of Lewellyn’s nephew or the new Director or any of that political stuff. But it has to be tonight, or the new Director is going to be all over everything.” He fidgeted a little awkwardly. “Anyway, if you’re not up for it… Yeah, I’ll understand. But that’s an option she’s put on the table.”
I swallowed nervously. Stepmom. Had she decided that since Mister Salvatore killed me, that made her my stepmom, like John had decided it made him my adopted brother? Could I handle having another mom?
“No,” I said. And then my treacherous autopilot added: “I’m up for it.” I squeezed my other hand into a fist and tried not to start panicking on the spot. “I’d rather meet any additional vampires one at a time rather than in a big group.” Actually, I’d rather not meet any more vampires at all. It never ended well. Salvatore had killed me, Lewellyn had run a smear campaign against me, Fiore was convinced I was a bitch and just waiting for me to screw up somehow, Valerie had pinned her hopes for a lasting peace on my shoulders and Benjamin had turned me into a juice box. No good would come of this.
But it would be worse if I was ambushed by a group. And I could probably trust this offer. It was vetted by John, after all, and it fell under the category of weird vampire family stuff. No one likes it when their family stuff gets made public, so Elaine probably would keep our meeting private.
I wished I had Megan with me. She was the diplomatic one. And Emma, for moral support. I felt my fingers itch to call them — but I needed someone to stay with Hans and Daniel, just in case. So what I had was Fumiko and Jamie.
Well, if the shit hits the fan — and when does it not when I’m around family? — Fumiko is probably the best one to have around, I guess.
“Okay,” I declared. “Change of plans. John, we’re taking Fumiko and Jamie with us if they’re still willing. And that means we’ll need a bigger car, so see if you can get Ben’s driver to pull the limo around.” I would call Megan and Emma so they’d know what was going on, and that I would be perfectly fine. I’d have Fumiko, Jamie, John, two werewolves and at least one donor with me, after all. “Actually, where is Ben? Did he ever come back?”
“He’s still at Dad’s old house,” John answered. “Keeping an eye on him and Lewellyn.”
Even better: and Benjamin and everyone with him. “Perfect,” I said. “I’ll meet Elaine there, then. I know she’ll have a few donors with her, but no other vampires, werewolves, solocks, familiars, ghouls or other things that might spook me. Make sure she understands that, okay? I’m going to make sure Fumiko is good with coming along, and then call Ben, Megan and Emma.”
John nodded and let go of the elevator button. The doors slid open and I swept out of the cramped confines. Everyone else followed me, but John peeled off in the direction of a sign that read “garage” with an arrow pointing down a hall. The two teenagers and their ghost wolves stuck with me, though, and I led them into the lobby and toward the doors.
Through the glass doors I could see that Fumiko and Jamie had gotten out of the car. It was in park with it’s blinkers on, and they were leaning against the side of it that faced the hotel, chatting. When we came out it caught their attention and Fumiko stepped away from the car. Her gaze bounced between the two teenagers.
Fumiko nodded to the werepups. “Jacob; Shantaya,” she said, greeting them both in turn. Then she returned her attention to me. “I take it John’s not driving, then?” Fumiko asked when she failed to spot him.
“No,” I admitted while filing away Shantaya’s name for future reference. “But neither or you. He’s scrounging up alternative transportation.” Fumiko tilted her head questioningly, and I hastily repeated what John had told me about his stepmom’s visit.
“…so I have him getting the limo,” I concluded. “We’re going to go over to Hans’ place and meet Elaine there. I, um, was kind of hoping you’d be willing to come with. For moral support?”
Fumiko was frowning when I finished, but she nodded. “Yes, of course,” she said. “I wouldn’t want you meeting with some strange vampire without someone around, just in case. Megan and Emma wouldn’t, either.” I figured that Fumiko was just guessing about what Emma would want, but I knew she was spot on about Megan. I fidgeted slightly, not wanting to admit that I hadn’t been planing on telling them until after.
“I know,” I ended up saying. “But I want someone I know to stay with Cassie to keep an eye on Hans. Just in case.”
Fumiko frowned at me. “Alright,” she decided. “I’ll swing by the apartments again to pick up Megan and Emma. Jamie can stay with Cassie — if that’s not enough, they can call Kelson to get some more people to come over.”
I blinked. I hadn’t considered that… I wasn’t comfortable with just relying on Kelson, since I didn’t really know him. Then again, I didn’t really know Jamie — but I did know she was bound by the kind of geas that ensured loyalty from a fae. Fumiko and Jamie were, in a way, just as close as Megan and Emma. So if I trusted Fumiko I could trust Jamie, too.
“I… okay,” I agreed before I could make up some sort of protest. “Will you call them while I let Ben know the plan?”
“Sure,” Fumiko said. A moment later she had her phone out and dialing. I fumbled for mine and pulled up the numbers.
Benjamin — the player — had entered his at the top of the list. I hit dial and took a few steps away from Jacob and Shantaya. I wanted to at least be able to pretend they weren’t listening in on my call to my sort of maybe a boyfriend. Of course, their wolves crowded after me like puppies after their mamma, so that was only going to be pretend. I swallowed and let my awareness drift down to reality. The wolves faded out of sight. That helped.
“Hi!” I said as soon as the phone picked up on the other end. God, I sounded chipper. What the hell? That wasn’t me. “Ben? It’s Abby. Are you still at Hans’ place? I was thinking of stoping by…”