Ben answered after one ring. I was sort of flattered. I mean, yes: he’s a vampire. But still, I was calling after ten and it had been ground into my head that after ten was too late for polite calls, and people were supposed to wait two rings before answering so it didn’t look like they’d been waiting on the phone.
On the other hand: one ring, and it was too late for polite calls. Oh, shit. He thought this was a booty call, didn’t he. Well, a vein-y call, anyway. Ben was more interested in my blood than my body, I was pretty sure. No wonder he was so eager. Cheeky bastard!
“Hello, Abby,” Ben interupted my nascent mental ramblings. “How are you this evening?”
“This is not a booty call,” I scolded him back. Good grief, men! “I’m coming over. You’re still at Hans’ place, right? Mister Salvatore’s old house?”
Ben, as usual, was a little flustered by my calling him out and taking charge. “What?” He squawked in confusion — but he rapidly latched onto the second thread of conversation. “Yes, I’m still here. Someone has to keep an eye on The Directors, right?”
Which was his subtle way of reminding me that he was standing guard over the people who’d wanted me dead, and had come to face down Director Lewellyn — even if he hadn’t gotten there in time — and had gone into Faerieland to fight Archarel — even though he hadn’t gotten there in time, either — and had helped rescue Orlina from her guards turned assassins and somehow all of that made him a little badass even if he was a punk-wannabe dork the rest of the time.
I stopped chewing on my lip. “Okay,” I blurted. “One nibble. But no booty, buster! I have puppies I’m babysitting.” Of course, the babysitter necking with her boyfriend was such a trope it had to have some foundation in reality. I could feel my face heating up at the idea of Ben and fangs and my neck. I hung up before he could talk me into doing more stuff.
Unfortunately, that freed my attention to realize that I hadn’t exactly been having a private conversation. Shantaya was looking at me with wide, almost shocked, eyes. Whatever Jacob’s expression had been, it turned into a leer fast enough that I snapped my gaze to the hotel doors and pretended I hadn’t noticed. I kept him in the corner of my vision, though. He was too big and too ‘Me male. Grunt lots. Play sports. Sex womens.’ for me to not freak out at the idea of him being somewhere behind me and leering.
I really hoped I wasn’t going to have to explain to him that I already had two boyfriends, neither one of which he could even begin to measure up to. Either one of which could break him in half without trying.
Somehow, I figured that would be a more effective way of getting him to stop leering than pointing out that I could break him in half without trying. Probably because I figured I’d just panic and freeze up if I tried. But also maybe because I got the distinct feeling that Jacob wasn’t really impressed by the idea of someone of the opposite gender being able to stand up for herself.
Maybe I should’ve asked Fumiko to ride along with us.
Fortunately, it seemed John didn’t have much trouble securing Ben’s limo for our use. Shortly after Fumiko left — which was shortly after I’d started purposely staring out the lobby doors — it pulled up in the place of her car.
Oh crap, I thought. I hadn’t gotten to the part about how we were supposed to meet my new mother-in-tradition when I was talking to Ben, had I? Right now he was probably thinking about how he could get more than a nibble out of me when I showed up, instead.
Fuck it. I shoved that thought aside because I really didn’t want to think about it and then get worked up and then freak out while I was locked in a moving vehicle with the werepups. “It” being John’s step-mom or Ben trying to seduce me more. I knew Ben was at the house; I was going to the house. I could have John fill him in on the detailed part of the details when we got there.
I got into the limo first, followed by John. Shantaya set herself up between Jacob and I. He seemed to sulk about being stuck so far away from me — I was about even between relieved, and anxious that he was between me and the door. I resolved not to let that work me up, though, and did my best to ignore the two werepups. Shantaya was in charge of keeping Jacob out of my hair, anyway.
Since I also didn’t want to think about the my impending encounter with another ancient vampire, I wound up thinking about Reid’s confusion about Linda and her changeling sister and the whole ‘invasion of the city’ that had supposedly gone down… sixty years ago? Was that how long Linda had said it’d been since she’d last seen Hans?
Crap, I thought. I still hadn’t gotten around to asking Hans exactly how big of a cradle robber he was. Oh, shit, a new thought interrupted that recurring freak out fodder.
Ben was probably even older.
God, what was it with me and old guys?!
I shoved those thoughts aside and turned to John. I was so desperate to distract myself that I was willingly resorting to conversation.
“So,” I blurted, but I had nothing else to add.
“Yes?” John answered.
Do not ask him how old he is!
“You were serving under your dad when you first met Hans,” I said. “Right?” I felt dumb. He’d told me as much just a couple days ago, but I couldn’t think of anything to say other than repeating stuff I already knew — because god knew I didn’t want to start asking questions. Although, at least I wasn’t dating John. So who cared if he was probably old enough to be my grandfather or something?
John nodded amicably. “Yeah,” he said.
I felt a couple of seconds tick by in agonizing slow motion. The conversational ball was back in my court, and I felt like if I didn’t come up with something to say then I was going to be held in contempt. Or was that supposed to be a sports metaphor? Except: no, that didn’t make sense. Weren’t most sports just played on one court? But then again, how many legal cases involved balls?
Whatever: John looked way too much like his dad for me to be comfortable thinking about his balls.
“I bet you and Hans played lots of sports together. That’s a guy thing, right?” I babbled. Dammit Ben! Him and his talk of nibbling had gotten me all riled up, and now could totally see Hans and John in my mind’s eye: both in kilts and nothing else, romping about in a field of heather beneath a midnight moon back in Hans’ old country.
No no no no bad Abby no…
And dammit, Hans! Why did he have to let me know about the national pastime of his countrymen?
“Uh… I guess some,” John said. “We spent a lot of time together, and with Linda and a few others from the local community while Dad was getting things under control after Archarel’s invasion. But I guess back then we were more into sparring than ‘sport.’ I mean: the war was still wrapping up, and Hans had a lot of issues to work through.”
Sparring. Seriously? Dammit, John, you’re not helping! God, I hope no one can tell how bad I’m blushing right now. Fortunately, the back of the limo was relatively dark. I felt like my cheeks were radiators. And that probably meant that there was more blood rushing through my neck for Ben to enjoy once we got to the house.
“Hey, I’m into sports,” Jacob chimed in. “Football,” he added proudly.
“Shut up,” Shantaya hissed at him. I could hear her heart speed up. “She isn’t talking to you!”
My eyes slid over to Jacob anyway. Great. Just fucking great. Now there were three people in kilts in my head. God, I needed a change of topic. I needed a change of topic so fucking bad. If Jacob gave me a nose bleed, I was totally going to follow through and replace the blood with his.
And then it clicked. Archarel’s invasion. Hans and John and Linda, and not in some sort of kinktacular double teaming — No! Oh god no, that thought stops right now! I did not need to have Jacob replaced with Linda. But she did, and I was only able to pretend to ignore that because the other thought that had clicked was a hell of a lot more important than a mental image that would probably scar me for life. Not that Linda was unattractive for her age: No, it was just that she was almost as intimidating as Katherine.
I snapped my gaze back to John. I could hear Shantaya’s heart rate decelerate to something more normal: I think Jacob gave her a small panic attack when he tried to get my attention. Or maybe I had when I’d looked their way. She must’ve taken the whole ‘you’re protecting him from me getting pissed off’ thing to heart. I didn’t care. I tried not to care, anyway. I was too busy talking. “Right. The war. So you were there when Mister Salvatore took down Archarel’s changeling.”
How had I missed that? I wanted to kick myself. Yeah, Emma had been trying to get a hold of Linda to get her side of the story — but she wasn’t the only person I knew with first hand experience of the event. I could’ve just called John!
John shook his head. “I wasn’t there for the fight itself. When Hans got to us, Dad prioritized mobilizing his warlocks in hopes that we could get a proper ward up and contain the enemy before the wolf pack was overrun. The rest of us arrived as quickly as logistics would allow, but by the time I was on site the battle itself was over.”
For a second I just stared at John. Meanwhile, my nerves started twisting; winding up relentlessly as my imagination started proposing vague scenarios based on absolutely no information other than that Mister Salvatore was scary as fuck and probably evil — definitely evil when he wasn’t fully slaked — and his story still didn’t match Reid’s and I still didn’t have anyone who had been there that I could ask to confirm which version was true. “Oh,” I said.
John must have heard something in my voice. He frowned. “Why,” he asked. “Abby? What is it?”
I frowned too: but I was just doing it because I was trying to think and not about the backlog of imagery I had in the back of my head. Did it mean anything that John hadn’t been there? Probably not. Warlocks were probably better to have on hand when fighting faeries than a ghoul would, so it even made sense that if there’d been limited transportation John would have been left behind.
But for some reason, I still didn’t like it.
“Nothing,” I said. It probably was nothing. I knew that I was a neurotic, anxious mess. It was just my nerves acting up: I couldn’t realistically expect the world to work out so that if I had a question I would just happen to have the person who could answer it on hand. Even if that question was sort of important. Because it was: Even though it was about something that happened decades ago, the people involved were still alive. I mean, sort of: Salvatore was a dormant corpse, anyway. But the point was: if Salvatore’s story and Reid’s story weren’t matching up, then there was something going on there — and it wasn’t just nerves, was it?
I mean, anything out of the ordinary involving Mister Salvatore was well worth panicking about, right? Right.
Shit. Shit shit shit. So, I knew why I should be panicking. I just didn’t know what I was panicking about or what else I could do about it. Shit fuck shit.
One of the really horrible things about my brand of anxiety was that not knowing what I was panicking about — or what I could do about it — wasn’t enough to let me not panic. Instead, it just gave me two more reasons to panic.
“Then what about Mister Kallaher,” I suddenly asked. I was going to go see him, later, so if he was a viable source of information I wanted to know it. “Was he there?”
John frowned as he thought back. “No,” he finally said. “Mitchell was an apprentice back then, and I’m pretty sure he was among those who’d been drained by Dad so that his more experienced donors would have full auras and be combat-ready.”
I nodded slowly, but didn’t give voice to my thoughts. I had a sort of sick worry eating away at them, now. My nerves were already wound so tight that they couldn’t get much worse; the extra anxiety translated into nausea instead. So, only Mister Salvatore’s most experienced donors had been on hand for the actual battle? The battle that Reid seemed to think hadn’t happened?
“Oh,” I said as casually as possible. The goddamn limo didn’t have a fucking bathroom for me to run away and hide in, so I locked down on my emotions as years of training came to the fore. Everything is okay, people. I am not freaking out. I am not freaking out. “Okay.”
Something in my voice must have given me away, though, because John sounded worried when he said “Abby?” back to me. I didn’t care. I mean: I couldn’t care. I turned away, too busy trying not to fall apart or give in to the nauseating fear that roiled restlessly in my stomach.
Somehow, I found myself thinking that ‘experienced’ was an awfully funny way of meaning ‘loyal.’ And the implications of that — combined with my ability to believe the worst about people and imagine even worse — was enough to leave me staring at where I wished there was a real window and refusing to breathe so I wouldn’t hyperventilate for the rest of the ride to Salvatore’s old house.
But at least it gave me something to do instead of freaking out about meeting John’s step-mom, right?