“Do what I say and no one gets hurt.”
Lee froze, his hand halfway to the bottle of NyQuil on the shelf, when he heard the woman’s voice behind him and felt the barrel of the gun press into the small of his back. A thousand scenarios flashed through his mind, including one move that had taken his stunt double twelve tries to get right in the season finale, and that man was a professional. In the end, Lee did exactly what the woman said.
“Just take my wallet,” Lee offered. “I don’t want any trouble.”
A snide tone entered the woman’s voice. “I don’t want money.”
“What do you want, then?” Lee asked, still frozen in place.
The woman leaned in and then, creepily, sniffed the back of Lee’s neck. “I can smell magic all over you. Hell, I can taste it.” She sounded unnervingly rapturous at the notion, before a hint of disappointment entered her voice. “But you’re not the source…”
And that was when Lee realized that, once again, some psychotic supernatural creature was after his boyfriend.
“Ah, no, sorry. You’re looking for Tony. He’s not with me, but I can give him a message if you want.” Lee had long ago gotten over how strange his life had become, and now he felt almost calm facing off against whatever this woman was that she could smell magic. He’d learned from far too much experience that treating supernatural beings like they were perfectly humdrum threw them off-balance; they were used to striking terror into the hearts of men.
The woman behind him did, indeed, seem confused. Lee could feel the barrel of the gun shift against his back. “Don’t move,” she insisted, “or I start shooting.”
Lee’s eyes darted about the corner convenience store to assess the potential danger. There was an elderly cashier behind the counter, a pregnant woman and her husband in the ice cream aisle, and a teenage kid trying to pretend like he wasn’t checking out the condoms the next aisle over. The kid had looked at Lee with something like awe earlier when Lee had walked by, calmly taken two boxes of condoms and some K-Y Jelly and then proceeded on to the flu medications like none of it was a big deal. Lee went out on a limb and guessed the kid wouldn’t be helpful in a crisis. The old man behind the counter was out, too. The husband might be useful, though; people could go to ridiculous lengths to protect their unborn children…
“He goes first,” the woman behind him hissed in his ear, gesturing in the direction of the husband. Apparently, she thought the same way Lee did. She didn’t sound like she wanted to kill anybody, though.
That was good, at least. Lee couldn’t even begin to understand the mentality of someone who would bring a gun into a drugstore to hold up a perfect stranger – his dubious role in the straight-to-DVD gangster thriller this summer aside – so he hadn’t been sure how likely a massacre was until now.
“Why do you want to see Tony, anyway?” he asked calmly. “Maybe we can work this all out without the gun.”
The woman chuckled to herself under her breath. It was a surprisingly unpleasant laugh, given that she had a rather melodious voice. “I need his magic,” she informed Lee in a disturbingly ravenous tone, “his energy. I need to devour him until there’s nothing left.”
“Uh, yeah. That might be a problem, then.”
The gun pressed further into the base of Lee’s spine. “And you’re going to take me to him.”
Lee considered his options. He had no clue what this woman was, but Tony probably did. Tony had been practicing a lot lately, so he could probably even take her, if all other things were equal. The only problem was that Tony was currently in bed, drugged up, with a fever of 101 degrees. Tony was out.
The next best option – as loath as Lee was to admit it – was Henry. Unfortunately, it was one in the afternoon. Lee could probably stall some, but he couldn’t stall that much. That left him with only one option…
“Tony’s at work right now,” Lee lied. “Just let me buy this stuff, and I’ll take you to him.” He risked finally snatching the NyQuil bottle from the shelf.
This seemed to confuse the woman even more. “You’re not going to plead for your mate’s life?”
Lee didn’t bother to deny what Tony was to him. It seemed likely this woman could smell things like that. Plus, while Lee was sure plenty of straight couples bought lube, they probably didn’t buy condoms in two different sizes, unless all those ‘increase your penis size’ spam e-mails actually worked.
“Better him than me.” Lee shrugged before looking over his shoulder to flash her his vapid, self-absorbed Hollywood smile. Lee might not have been the best guy to have in a fight, but he was a good actor, and he was an expert on reading people. If he was going to get out of this, he was going to have to rely on those skills. The alternative – putting Tony in danger – was unthinkable.
The woman’s lip curled in disgust. It was amazing the horrible things people were willing to believe about a person if they just looked rich and attractive enough. “Drop the basket,” she insisted. “We’re going right now.”
“That’ll look weird,” Lee retorted. “You don’t want to draw unnecessary attention, right?”
She hesitated for a moment, considering that, before she gestured for him to head to the front counter. Lee breathed a sigh of relief and made his purchases. The more he could lull her with mundane activities, the more unprepared she’d be when he finally made his move.
Lee had had some hope that the cashier might have noticed that something was amiss and called the police, but the man was practically asleep at his job and didn’t even glance twice at them while he charged up Lee’s purchases. Lee and the woman made their way the block and a half to Lee’s car without conversation, the woman staying behind him with the gun pressed to his back the whole way.
Lee tensed as he dug around in his pockets for his car keys. He’d actually walked to the drugstore because it was so close. In fact, they were currently standing right in front of Tony’s apartment building. Lee felt his anxiety grow as he searched for his keys. It was possible he’d left them on Tony’s kitchen counter, in which case he was screwed. He didn’t know how good this woman’s sense of smell was, but the longer they stayed here, the greater the likelihood that she’d notice that Tony’s smell was all over the place.
After several agonizing moments, Lee located his keys and unlocked the car with a shaky laugh. He was hoping that she’d buy that Nervous Rich Guy was on edge because of the gun and not because he was actually lying to her.
“You get in first,” she instructed, glancing anxiously in both directions down the street before pulling away from him long enough to point the gun at him over the top of his Beemer.
He held up his hands in surrender and got slowly into the car. She followed after him. Lee almost felt relief when the doors slammed shut. Sure, he was still in danger, but at least he’d managed to take the innocent bystanders out of the equation.
“Where is ‘work’?” the woman demanded, sounding very suspicious.
Lee pulled a pair of stylish sunglasses from behind the visor. “CB Productions.”
The suspicious look increased. “You have any proof of that?” she demanded. Apparently, Lee’s shallow, carefree act wasn’t fooling her entirely.
Lee wondered at that. This woman seemed unusually cautious. Smart, too. A lot of times, in his experience, that meant someone was a lot older than they looked. Now that he’d gotten a good look at her, he would have guessed this woman was around thirty, although she had a tall, thin build and blonde hair in that short, elfin cut that was designed to make women look younger. Lee mentally bumped up her age in his head, possibly into the hundreds.
She wasn’t a vampire because she was walking around in the daylight, but she had to be something similar. Given what she’d said earlier, Lee guessed that she was some kind of creature that extended its life by feeding off magical energy, rather than blood.
Lee realized his life was really weird, and gestured to the back seat. “I’ve got an old shooting schedule back there.”
She made Lee put his hands up on the dashboard at an awkward angle so that she could keep the gun trained on his back while she reached into the backseat to grab the stack of papers there. Luckily, Tony had been credited as assistant director on the most recent script, and she found his name right away. The woman relaxed slightly. “All right, take me there.”
Lee pulled smoothly out into the street and tried to figure out his next step. He had a lot of information on this woman – information that could probably be used to defeat her – but he needed to get that information into the hands of someone who could use it: specifically, Amy. Amy had devoured all the files on Tony’s laptop the instant he’d granted her full access to it. Amy probably knew more ins and outs of the magical world than Tony himself did. Lee just needed to pass the information on, and for that he needed a distraction.
“So,” he ventured a look in his captor’s direction, “what’s your name?”
She looked at him blankly.
“It’s just awkward calling you ‘hey, you with the gun!’ all the time.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she tapped the barrel of her gun against the gear shift lever a couple of times contemplatively. “You can call me Andrea,” she finally informed him.
“Great. Andrea.” He was pretty sure that was a false name, but that didn’t really matter. “So, what do you have against Tony, anyway? Not that it’s any of my business, but… Well, the gun is pointed at my head at the moment.” He pulled onto the highway, and flashed her the smile that had melted millions of hearts.
“You’re right,” she snapped, completely unaffected. “It is none of your business.” She sat stiffly in her seat, one hand clenched in her lap and the other on the gun, knuckles white. It seemed like she wasn’t too comfortable driving.
Lee might have thought that was due to being centuries old, but Henry had no problem with cars. It must have been something else, then. In fact, she looked nervous the same way Henry looked nervous whenever sunlight was involved. There must have been something associated with car rides that was capable of killing her.
“Fair enough,” Lee continued making inane small talk. “You just don’t seem like the type to hold up strange men in convenience stores.”
She curled her lip at him. “Pathetic human. You don’t know anything.” Lee never knew whether to be proud or embarrassed that he could play vapid and clueless so convincingly.
Lee did his best to look like there wasn’t a thought in his pretty little head and drove right past the back staff entrance of CB Productions. Andrea didn’t even know the difference. It was almost impossible to hold in a little victory cheer when Lee pulled up to the main gates instead, and his car was instantly swarmed by paparazzi.
“What’s going on?” Andrea demanded, wide-eyed.
“Some actor in some CW drama was arrested for drunk driving. All the studios have been swamped with press ever since.” Lee moved to lower his window.
“Stop!” Andrea ordered, pressing the gun into his side.
“I can’t type in my access code without rolling down my window.” Lee acted like he had no clue what her problem might be.
Andrea had that deer-in-headlights look that everyone who wasn’t used to the paparazzi got. Lee used it to his full advantage and rolled down the window. Instantly, cameras and microphones plunged into the car.
“Mister Nicholas, what do you have to say in response to the allegations that you’re taking cocaine?”
“Is this your new girlfriend, Lee?”
“Is it true that you’re having an illicit affair with your director?”
“Lee, can I have your autograph?”
Better yet: paparazzi and fans. Andrea had retreated back into her seat, as far away from Lee’s open window as she could get, and was hiding the gun in her jacket pocket. Camera flashbulbs lit up the interior of the car in blinding bursts of white light.
There were plenty of ways of giving the paparazzi the brush off, of course, and Lee was skilled in every last one of them. He didn’t use them now, however, because he wanted the chaos. As a natural result, by the time Lee got through the gates, Susannah Bryce and her cameraman had somehow wormed their way into the backseat. It was a special sort of magic that only paparazzi knew.
Susannah was one of the more vicious of her breed and instantly sensed the inexperience of Lee’s companion. Her smile looked like a feral wolf’s upon finding fresh meat. “How long have you and Lee been together?” She shoved her microphone in Andrea’s face.
Andrea may have been a centuries-old supernatural creature hell-bent on devouring the magical energy from Tony’s bones; she was not, however, adept at dealing with the press. “We, uh, just met…”
“And how do you feel, knowing that Lee has escorted three different women so far this month alone?”
“Uh… I… Huh?”
“Why do you stand a chance when they didn’t?”
Lee had to hand it to Susannah: she made an excellent distraction. Lee took full advantage of this to slip out his Blackberry and sent a series of emergency text messages to Amy:
fem w gun
car can kill?
A few seconds later, his phone rang.
“Hey!” Andrea managed to process this amidst Susannah’s grilling. “Don’t answer that!”
“Why?” Susannah demanded. “Do you suspect there’s another woman?”
Lee used the distraction to answer his phone. “Hello?”
“Some kind of supernatural creature, right?” Amy demanded immediately.
“Yeah, sure,” Lee agreed blandly, like he was discussing something of no consequence.
Andrea’s focus left him to better combat Susannah’s increasingly catty questions: “What about the rumors that Lee is secretly gay?”
Lee tuned them out. “I can’t really talk contract negotiations right now, though. People in the car.”
“All I need are yes or no answers,” Amy understood. “Does she appear human?”
“Absolutely,” Lee answered with false cheer.
Lee considered the gun. “I doubt it.”
“Just as I thought.” Amy was obviously deep in conspiratorial mode now. “You’re dealing with a succubus.”
“Are you sure about that?” From what Lee knew, succubi were supposed to be some kind of sex demon, kind of like Leah except more deadly.
“The folklore about succubi is about as inaccurate as it is for vampires and werewolves,” Amy assured him. “She’s definitely a succubus.”
“What does this mean for me?” Lee asked carefully, pulling into the parking lot at the front of the studio.
“It means that you were right about cars. Succubi can live indefinitely with enough magical food, but they’re weak against steel. A nasty car crash would probably kill her.”
“Shoot,” Lee said very deliberately. “I just got to work. I’ll have to call you back.”
“We’ve taken the gun into consideration,” Amy promised him. “Just follow Zev’s lead.”
“Great. Talk to you later!” Lee hung up.
Andrea glared at him like she was going to shoot him as soon as there weren’t any witnesses. Lee made a mental note to keep witnesses around at all times.
“Let’s go.” Lee led the gun-toting succubus, the paparazzo, and the cameraman to the front door of the studio. He was pretty sure that somewhere there was a joke that began like that.
Zev was waiting near the door, pretending to try to fix a headset, when Lee came in. Lee noted that he was holding a hefty industrial flashlight that most certainly had steel in its handle.
“Have you seen Tony around?” Lee asked casually, just to make sure Zev knew his cover story for why they were there in the first place.
“He’s meeting with CB.” Zev gestured in the direction of CB’s office. He did a double-take when Susannah and her cameraman came in after Lee and Andrea.
Lee almost laughed at the moment of confusion on Zev’s face: which is the succubus? It sounded like a new game show.
“This way,” Lee pointedly directed Andrea to come with him.
Zev figured it out. “I’m sorry.” He cut off Susannah and the cameraman. “Outside equipment isn’t allowed. It messes with our communications systems.” It was an excuse airlines had been using for years, and it worked now. “Lee has to do some voice-over work, so if you’ll come with me, he’ll meet up with us in the sound studio later.”
Lee felt a moment of pity for Susannah. Even if she hadn’t meant to, she’d helped him out of a tough situation today. She didn’t deserve to be on the receiving end of Zev’s never-ending lecture on sound mixing and how the entire movie industry had gone to shit. It did get her out of harm’s way, however.
Lee led Andrea in the direction of CB’s office, while Zev all but shoved the paparazzi through the side doors into the sound studio. Lee instantly missed Zev’s industrial-strength flashlight.
“You television people are all insane,” Andrea hissed with irritation, holding the gun firmly against Lee’s back once more.
“That’s the biz.” Lee noticed out of the corner of his eye that Mouse had edged into the hallway, ostensibly moving one of the floodlights from the main studio. Mouse was also equipped with a heavy-duty, steel-handled flashlight. “Can we get this over with already?”
“You’re in an awful hurry to have your mate’s life force sucked from his body.”
“I’m in an awful hurry not to have a gun pointed at me,” Lee corrected.
“Absolutely despicable.” Andrea sneered at him. “Your species has always been the absolute filth of the earth, but you’re low even for a human.”
Lee actually considered himself quite lucky that Andrea thought so little of humans; it meant that she underestimated him. “What else am I supposed to do?” he whined in his best frivolous actor voice.
Andrea didn’t even dignify that with a response. “Keep moving.”
He led her to CB’s office, Mouse covertly following them all the while.
“CB’s in a meeting,” Amy informed him perkily, playing the perfect role of a secretary when Lee and Andrea walked in.
“With Tony Foster?” Andrea demanded, not even pretending to go through Lee anymore. There was something in her that was dangerously hungry now, like she couldn’t wait any longer.
“Yes,” Amy agreed, “but they should be done in—”
“Enough of this!” Andrea snapped. She shoved Lee through the door ahead of her, while Amy pretended to protest.
Lee took the opportunity given to him to ‘trip.’ He wasn’t sure exactly what would happen when they entered CB’s office, but he was willing to bet that he’d want to be far out of the way when it went down.
It would have been a good bet.
Lee hadn’t seen CB really angry that often, but every time he did, he was reminded of the rather horrifying fact that his employer was like a force of nature.
Now, CB tackled Andrea from the side with all the power of a runaway freight train. Lee would almost have felt sorry for her except for the fact that she fired off three wild shots before CB could fully incapacitate her.
Two of the shots went high, and the third was roughly level with where Lee’s stomach would have been, if he’d still been standing. Instead, it impacted with the person who had jumped in between where Lee should have been and the danger at the last minute.
“Hey,” Leah protested when she saw that Lee had gotten himself to safety all on his lonesome, “no fair. This was going to be my big chance to play bodyguard.” The bullet had struck her, of course, to absolutely no effect.
It was around that time that Andrea caught scent of all the magic surrounding Leah and started struggling like a madwoman against CB’s grip. Lee watched with something akin to awe as Andrea bit deep into CB’s hand, and CB didn’t even flinch.
Andrea may not have been able to escape, but apparently she could feed anyway. Lee and Leah both gaped in disbelief when magical energy started dripping from Andrea’s mouth. It glowed a pale blue like it was composed of light, but it was shaped like a thick, viscous liquid. Lee was reminded of ectoplasm.
“Look out!” Amy called in alarm from the doorway when the glowing energy hardened. It ended up taking the form of a long proboscis that shot out from Andrea’s throat directly at Leah.
Lee knocked Leah’s feet out from under her, sending her to the floor with him, just instants before the proboscis struck out to suck Leah dry.
“You bastard!” Andrea spat at Lee. “You tricked me! Who the hell are you people?” Even while she talked, the proboscis flailed out wildly, aiming at Lee this time.
Leah neatly rolled the two of them over and behind CB’s desk.
Before Andrea got another shot, Mouse managed to make his way through CB and Andrea’s thrashing limbs and conked Andrea over the back of the head with his flashlight.
The wild screaming came to a sudden halt, the proboscis vanished back into thin air, and everyone relaxed.
“Hey, cutie,” Leah flirted from where she still lay on top of Lee.
Lee winced in pain and shoved her off.
“She’s unconscious,” Amy confirmed, checking Andrea’s pulse. “Is everyone all right?”
Worn and more than a little wary, she got nods from around the room.
“It was a smart idea for Zev to lock up the paparazzi in the sound-proof studio,” Lee finally commented, looking down at their unconscious succubus.
At the end of the day, Lee left the CB Productions team in the proud possession of a thoroughly-wrangled succubus, who was now chained up with the same chains that Lee himself had worn last season when James Taylor Grant had spent half an episode chained up shirtless to a wall by a guild of bisexual vampire wannabes. DVD sales had been through the roof on that one.
No one seemed to know quite what to do with Andrea. She was dangerous to a certain degree – she’d kept attacking Leah with her proboscis until they’d finally had to gag her – but, in the end, none of them were heartless enough to kill what looked like a woman in cold blood.
CB had said that Henry had a contact who could have Andrea moved and incarcerated at a safe location. The way Lee figured it, there were three possibilities: the story was true, the story was a lie CB had told them so they wouldn’t ask questions when he made Andrea disappear, or the story was a lie Henry had told CB so that he could get rid of Andrea. Lee hoped it wasn’t the latter. He could deal with CB trying to protect Tony, but Henry was still too pushy for his tastes.
“If we can convince her to stop trying to eat Tony and Leah,” Amy commented, “she could actually be a good ally.”
Lee wasn’t holding his breath. Andrea kept shooting him murderous looks like she couldn’t believe that a pretty boy like him had outsmarted her, and she would have her revenge.
That was around the time Lee begged out because he still hadn’t gotten Tony his NyQuil. He slipped out the back just in case Susannah had escaped Zev’s nefarious clutches and had a much easier time driving out than driving in.
Only one team of paparazzi was at the staff entrance. He blew them off by pretending to wave to Mason in the vehicle that was just pulling in. He recognized that it was only Tina’s car, of course, but the paparazzi didn’t know that. Mason seemed to actually like playing cat-and-mouse with the paparazzi and often drove around in “substandard vehicles” to draw extra attention to his eventual, inevitable capture.
Lee escaped while the paparazzi were determining that Mason had not, somehow, managed to disguise himself as Tina. Lee actually wouldn’t have put it past Mason, in one of his more attention-grabbing moods.
He finally arrived back from the corner drugstore a full three hours after he’d originally set out, only a little worse for wear. His parking space in front of Tony’s building was taken, so he eventually settled for stealing the alley spot that belonged to that creepy neighbor of Tony’s who was always checking out Lee’s butt. Lee figured the man owed him, big time.
“I’m back!” he announced into Tony’s tiny apartment, drugstore bag in hand.
Tony was still planted face-down on the fold-out bed where Lee had left him hours ago. He muttered in acknowledgement and sniffed piteously. It seemed that he’d been unconscious the entire time and hadn’t even noticed Lee had been gone so long.
“You should go home,” Tony mumbled into his pillow. “I don’t want you to get sick, too.”
“If I’m going to catch it, I already have by now.” That was symbolic of quite a lot of things, Lee thought. He sat on the edge of the bed and felt Tony’s temperature. It seemed like his fever had broken. An afternoon of peace and quiet had done him a world of good. “Besides, it’s nice to be the one taking care of you for once.”
Tony grunted and rolled over onto his back. “You don’t have to,” he insisted.
“Maybe I want to.”
Tony sighed. “It would just suck if there was another catastrophic supernatural emergency while I was out with the flu.”
Lee smiled to himself. “Somehow, I think we’d manage.”
Tony must have been really tired because he didn’t bother to argue how dangerous that was or how important it was to him to protect all the people he cared about. “Did you get NyQuil?” he sniffed instead.
Lee held up the bottle proudly.
“My hero,” Tony pretended to swoon.
“You have no idea,” Lee assured him as he handed off the precious medication and slid into bed behind Tony. After the day he’d had, he was due for a nap, too.
He figured he could wait until Tony was better to explain about the succubus…and the dark wizard they’d debilitated for Tony the day before yesterday…and the ghoul before that. Lee was pretty sure that Susannah’s cameraman had been nosing around in Lee’s shopping bag and now had proof that Lee was buying condoms for two, as well.
Tony took his medicine before he curled up against Lee’s warmth to sleep. It was moments like this, when it was just the two of them, and Lee felt the ridiculous urge to say stupid things like the men in Henry’s books did, that it became clear to Lee just why all of this was worth it.
“No idea at all…” he whispered into Tony’s hair.