Succubus Revealed Chapter 10

In centuries? I thought that was kind of an exaggeration.But I wasn’t going to argue any further with him, not when he had that zealous look in his eyes.It was one I knew all too well, which in its mildest form resulted in recipe experimentation and in its severest led to immortal killing sprees.

With all the schools on winter vacation now, Santa was no longer just doing evening duty at the mall.

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I had drawn a day shift for Monday and finally left Roman for bed so that I could get an early start. He acknowledged my good night with a nod, lost in his own brooding. Despite how hard he’d grilled me, I knew he was thinking about the same question I’d demanded of him: why would Hell want me out of Seattle so badly that they were willing to create a dream scenario for me?

I had no answers for it that night or the next morning. I arrived at the mall bright and early, in my foil dress, only to find a mob of parents and kids already lined up there waiting for us to open shop. Walter-Santa, I was pleased to see, was actually drinking straight coffee this morning, with no mention of alcohol. Of course, he was most likely getting rid of a hangover from last night, and I didn’t doubt that the requests for “something harder” would start by noon.

“Santa wishes his pavilion wasn’t under the mall’s skylight,” he remarked, furthering my hangover suspicions. He settled himself into his chair – much to the gathered children’s delight – and winced unhappily up at the sunlight spilling through the latticed roof of the “holiday gazebo.” He turned back to me and Grumpy. “I don’t suppose we could get a tarp for that?”

Grumpy and I exchanged looks. “I don’t think they sell tarps at this mall, Walt – Santa,” I told him. “But maybe on my break I can score some sheets from Pottery Barn for you.”

“Yeah,” said Grumpy, repressing an eye roll. “I’m sure we can find something very tasteful.”

Santa nodded solemnly. “Santa is grateful to have such dutiful elves.”

We opened the floodgates. I was working right next to Santa today, meaning I got a front row seat for some of the more outlandish requests. I was also the one who got to remove screaming children, despite parental protests and pleadings to “just keep her there until I get the picture!” All the while, I kept thinking that instead of doing this, I could be in Las Vegas right now, working through Matthias’s routines and listening to Phoebe’s jokes along the way.

Of course, that isn’t to say I was entirely scornful of the whole experience. I liked Christmas, and I liked children. I wouldn’t have signed on for this job if either of those weren’t true. But in watching these families – especially little girls with their mothers – I just couldn’t shake my worries for the Mortensens. If I thought too much about them, I started to tear up. So . . . yeah. Cynicism was preferable at times. It kept me from getting lost in my own despair.

When my shift ended later in the day, I discovered I wasn’t the only one going home. Grumpy put up a SANTA ON 10-MINUTE BREAK sign, much to the dismay of those waiting in line, and Walter followed me as I headed out to the mall offices. It was hard not to smile at the reaction of kids who just happened to be out shopping with parents and hadn’t come to specifically see Santa. Children came to a standstill, mouths gaping and fingers pointing.

“You’ve been pretty good today,” I told Walter.

“It’s easier when Santa knows he can go out for a drink at dinnertime,” he told me.

I frowned. “Are you going home? Oh. Of course you are. You’ve been here as long as me.” Elves had always moved in and out of shifts, but Santa had stayed constant. Now, with us pulling longer hours, Walter couldn’t be on the clock all the time. “Do you have a replacement?”

He put a finger to his lips and winked at me, refusing to say anything while we were in public. Once we were out of sight, in the administrative offices, I got my answer when we found another Santa sitting in a chair, leafing through a Victoria’s Secret catalog. He looked up at our approach and set the magazine down.

“Is it time?”

Walter nodded and turned to me. “Vixen, do we look the same?”

“Of course,” I said. “You’re both men in red suits and white beards.”

“Look closely,” he scolded. The other Santa rose, and they stood side by side. “Details matter. Anything a child waiting in line might notice when Bob goes out to take my place. Beard alignment, glasses, fit of the coat . . . it all matters. One small detail is all it takes for those kids to realize they’ve been played, that there are two of us.”

“And if they realize that,” added Bob, using the same British accent Walter always did, “then the illusion is over. They’ll know they’ve been tricked, that there is no one, true Santa.”

“Wow, you guys take this seriously,” I said, a little astonished. So, I did a closer assessment, making a few minor adjustments. I straightened Bob’s hat and fixed the way some of his beard’s curls were arranged. At last, I nodded. “You’re good to go.”

Bob looked at Walter expectantly. Walter took off his hat, beard, and glasses, revealing an ordinary-looking man with thinning salt-and-pepper hair. “Only one Santa can exist outside this room,” explained Walter mysteriously, watching Bob go. “It’s part of the magic.”

“This was kind of sweet,” I remarked. Off the clock now, Walter immediately produced a flask from his locker and began guzzling it. I wondered if the two Santas shared the same addiction. “Creepy, but sweet.”

After a wardrobe change of my own and a brief stop home, I eventually made my way to Burt’s Bowling Alley. Roman had chosen it for our immortal league practice. It was also the site of a date he and I had had way back when, during our ill-fated romance. Living with him day to day, coping with the mundane absurdities of roommate life, it was easy to forget about that part of our history. There had been a time when I thought I was falling in love with Roman, though eventually my feelings for Seth had won out. Learning Roman’s true nature – and about his plot to kill Carter – hadn’t helped our fledgling relationship. He’d given all that up, thankfully, but there were times I wondered just how much Roman still cared for me.

There was no sign of our illustrious teacher yet, but Seth was already there, along with Cody, Peter, and Hugh. Seeing me enter, Seth shot me a desperate, grateful look. I could only imagine what conversation he’d been subjected to while trapped with them. As I approached, the four guys’ shirts instantly caught my eye. Seth was wearing a Say Anything T-shirt. That was typical of him. What wasn’t so typical was that my three immortal friends were all wearing identical light blue shirts. Before I could get a good look at them, Cody leaped up and thrust a folded-up blue shirt toward me.

“Here,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what all four of us look like together in these.”

The shirt was a standard bowling style, short-sleeved and button-down. My name was embroidered on the front. Flipping it over, I found THE UNHOLY ROLLERS done in elaborate, flaming letters. I arched an eyebrow.

“Really?” I said. “This is what we’re going with?”

“It’s clever on so many levels,” Peter said excitedly. “It’s a take on ‘holy rollers,’ and then when you think about the fact that we’re rolling balls – “

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, putting the bowling shirt on over my turtleneck. The size was off a little, and I shape-shifted to adjust it. “I know what the definition of a pun is, Peter. I just didn’t realize we were going with something so . . . blatant.”

“It was either that or the Sinsationals,” said Hugh.

I made a face and settled into the crook of Seth’s arm. “I think you went with the right choice. And at least they’re in a tasteful color.”

Hugh and Cody exchanged pleased, triumphant looks. Peter scowled.

“There’s nothing wrong with pink,” he said. “I think it would have made a statement.”

“Yeah,” said Hugh. “A statement that we’re pansy-asses that Nanette’s team could clean the floor with.”

Peter gave a long-suffering sigh. “Why must you be so insecure about your masculinity? If Georgina had been around when we voted, I bet she would’ve gone with pink too.”

At once, his words reminded all of them of why I’d been gone. Their faces fell. “Is it true then?” said Cody. “You’re leaving?”

“Afraid so,” I told him, attempting cheerfulness I didn’t feel. “Next month, I’m Vegas-bound.”

“But that’s not fair,” Cody protested. “We need you here.”

Hugh gave him a rueful smile. “You haven’t been in this business long enough, kid. ‘Fair’ doesn’t enter into it.”

Cody didn’t like the reference to his lack of experience, but Hugh was right. Cody hadn’t been immortal long enough to go through a transfer or the organizational machinations of HR. Peter and Hugh had, and while they might be sad at the thought of leaving me, they also knew that there were some things you just can’t fight.

“Don’t feel too bad for me,” I said breezily. “Bastien’s working there now. And I’ve already got a job as a dancer.”

“You can’t even get a job here,” pointed out Peter.

“Like a topless dancer?” asked Hugh.

“No,” I said. “But scantily clad in sequins.”

Hugh nodded in approval. “That’ll work.”

Cody was still wearing his heart on his sleeve. His gaze fell on Seth. “Well. I guess one good thing is that with your job, you can live anywhere. Easy enough relocation.”

I didn’t know what Seth’s thoughts on that were exactly, but he managed a brave smile. “We’ll see.” Suddenly all I could think about was my last conversation with Andrea, when we were talking about Seth. He’s the rock supporting us all right now.

An uncomfortably warm feeling spread over me, tinged with the scent of brimstone. The other immortals and I looked up as Jerome entered, trailed by a pensive-looking Roman. I saw my surprise mirrored on my friends’ faces.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” I said to Jerome, when the father-and-son duo reached us. “I thought you’d made it clear you weren’t part of the team.”

“I’m not,” he said, eyeing the worn leather chairs with disgust. “But seeing as my honor is riding on this so-called team, I figured I’d best make sure you’re on the right track.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence in my abilities,” said Roman, entering our names into the lane’s computer.

“I don’t doubt your abilities,” said Jerome, deigning to sit at last. “But I also know a little encouragement can sometimes go a long way in furthering success.”

“I assume by ‘encouragement,’ you’re referring to your extreme displeasure if we fail,” I noted.

Jerome’s lips twitched. “Exactly, Georgie. Besides, I also wanted to hear – “

Jerome fell silent as his gaze rested on Seth’s T-shirt, depicting John Cusack’s iconic stance with the boom box over his head.

“Nice shirt,” said Jerome at last.

“Um, thanks,” said Seth.

Jerome turned back to me, like nothing had happened. “As I was saying, I wanted to hear about your Las Vegas weekend.”

“How considerate,” I said. Beside me, I felt Seth shift restlessly. I knew my other immortal friends made him uncomfortable in just a weird sort of way, but Jerome unnerved Seth in a whole other way. No, it was more than unnerving. Jerome scared Seth, which made sense because half the time, Jerome scared us too. “I’m sure you have enough eyes and ears to tell you exactly how my weekend went.”

“True,” said Jerome. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy getting your insight.”

“Right,” I said. “Because my happiness means so much to you.”

Roman crossed his arms over his chest and fixed us with an irritated look. “Sorry to interrupt, but do you want to practice or not?” He gave no indication that he’d grilled me on every detail of the aforementioned weekend. From his expression now, you’d think that was the last thing on his mind.

“Certainly,” said Jerome magnanimously. He gesture toward the lane, like some monarch kicking off a celebration. “Begin.”

Roman rolled his eyes and then turned to us Unholy Rollers. “Okay, first, let’s see what level you’re all at.”

Roman’s lessons hadn’t stuck with me over the last year, though I acquitted myself well with six pins on my first roll and two on the next. Cody surprised everyone with a spare, and Hugh, after first rolling a gutter ball, matched my eight. Peter created a perfect split on his first roll and hit nothing on the second. Seth, in a rare moment of bravery, leaned toward Jerome.

“Are there going to be handicaps in this tournament?”

“That,” said Jerome, dark eyes on the gaping hole Peter had made, “is an excellent question.”

Even Roman seemed a little surprised at how all over the map we were. He jumped into his role as coach, helping each of us with our own specific problems. Cody was the only one of us who needed little assistance and threw strikes and spares pretty regularly. I proved surprisingly correctable and was soon throwing spares about two-thirds of the time, which I thought was a decent rate. No amount of instruction seemed to help Peter, whose rolls were increasingly bizarre and erratic. Hugh improved slightly but still had a tendency to always throw right, which he just couldn’t shake.

“Here,” said Seth, standing up as Hugh was about to finish a frame. “Can I do it? I used to roll exactly like you do.”

Hugh relinquished the ball willingly, and Seth stepped up to the line. I sat up with interest, never having seen Seth bowl. He showed Hugh his technique first, miming a throw that curved slightly left. Then Seth threw for real, releasing a fast, neat ball that cleaned up Hugh’s leftover pins.

“Jesus Christ,” said Jerome in disgust. “I’m going to have to see if Nanette will let me put mortals on the team. It’s the only way I’m going to save face.”

“Hey,” said Roman. “Give them a chance. I can work miracles in a week.”

Jerome stood up. “Miracles generally aren’t in our repertoire. I’ve seen all I need to. I’m going to go drink now in a futile effort to wipe away the memory of this debacle. When I show up for your next practice, I expect to see significant improvement in all of you. If I don’t, you’re all going to learn a new definition of teamwork through your shared misery and suffering.” He turned abruptly on his heels and nearly ran into a waitress approaching us. She yelped in surprise when she saw the furious look on his face. “Do not serve them alcohol,” he warned her. “We can’t risk any chance of this getting worse – not that that’s probably possible.”

We watched them both hurry away. Once Jerome left the bowling alley, Roman exhaled in relief and sat down with us. “Okay, now that he’s gone, can we dispense with this bowling nonsense and get down to business? Cody, we need to talk to you about Milton.”

“Whoa, whoa,” said Peter. “Was I the only one who heard that part about ‘shared misery and suffering’? We need to practice.”

Roman waved a dismissive hand. “We’ll get back to that.”

“What about Milton?” asked Cody, looking puzzled for any number of reasons.

“You told him,” said Hugh. “Shit.”

“What’d you expect?” I asked. “You had to have known I’d do something about it.”

“Milton’s a hit man for Hell,” said Roman.

“Milton . . . not Milton that asshole vampire that was here a while ago?” asked Peter incredulously. “A hit man? Come on. He was a fashion nightmare, but that’s about it.”

“We have good reason to think he really is an assassin,” I said slowly. “He travels a lot, and when he’s in town . . . people die. Like Erik.”

“Erik was killed by a robber,” said Cody. “There was no sign of a vampire.”

“Well, of course not,” said Roman. “Hell doesn’t want its murders to look obvious.”

“Yeah,” said Peter, “but that implies Hell had a reason for killing Erik.”

“Hell did,” said Roman. He nodded toward me. “Her. Erik was investigating Georgina’s contract when he was killed.”

I swallowed, taking a moment to find my voice. There was a small, small comfort in thinking there was a reason for Erik’s death and not just some random chance of the universe. But that comfort was negated by the fact that I was the reason.

“Roman thinks there’s some nefarious explanation for me being transferred. Some larger plot. And that Erik’s death was part of it,” I said at last.

Seth stared at me in astonishment. “I thought you said this was routine.”

I shrugged, unable to meet his eyes. “I don’t know. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.”

“It isn’t,” said Roman fiercely. “There are too many things going on, too many things that don’t add up. Erik got too close to something, and Hell got rid of him. Which brings me back to my original point. Cody. You and Gabrielle followed Milton around, right?”

“I . . . yeah . . .” Cody was still in shock. “But I mean, we didn’t see him kill Erik! We didn’t see anything like that.”

“Did you ever see him in Lake City?” I asked. That was where Erik’s store had been.

Cody shook his head. “Never that far out. We just followed him mostly to some clubs. It was a game, that’s all. She wanted to see a vampire, so we watched him for a while. We never followed him outside of downtown.”

“I did.”

Everyone turned to stare at Peter.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” he demanded.

“I didn’t know about that,” said Cody. “Why did you follow him?”

Peter snorted. “Why do you think? He was in our territory. I was seeing if he was really just on vacation like he claimed. I had to make sure he wasn’t out hunting victims.”

I grew so complacent sometimes with the idea of my silly, laid-back friends that it was easy to forget their true natures. Peter and Cody were the most deceptive of all sometimes. They were goofy and absurd in most of their normal living, but at the end of the day, they were vampires.

“And?” asked Roman, getting that zealous look again. “Did you see him in Lake City?”

“No. I followed him once to the Eastside and once to West Seattle.”

A chill ran down my spine. “West Seattle? What was he doing there?”

“Nothing,” said Peter. “He drove though some neighborhoods, sat in his car for a while. I figured he was stalking prey but saw me and gave up. Which he was smart to do.”

“He might very well have been stalking prey,” I murmured. “Erik lived in West Seattle. Do you remember the neighborhood?”

“If I saw it, maybe,” said Peter. “But I couldn’t lead you back there. I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Roman. “This is all we need. This is enough proof.”

“It’s circumstantial at best,” argued Hugh. “Which I told Georgina initially. And it doesn’t explain why Hell would want him killed – especially after he helped Jerome. I know, I know.” Both Roman and I had started to protest, and Hugh held up a silencing hand. “The contract. But remember, Kristin checked it for you. She said there was nothing wrong with your contract.”

Kristin was an imp who worked in Vancouver. I’d done her a favor, and in return, she’d dared to look in Hell’s archives and review my contract for me, back when I’d clung to the hope that there might be an error. The imp who’d brokered my contract, Niphon, had been in town behaving suspiciously, and I’d been certain we’d learn that the contract was faulty. Kristin had come back with disappointing news: everything was in order.

“Erik said it wasn’t mine that was the problem, though. He said it was a different one,” I said.

“What other contract? And how is this connected to your transfer?” asked Hugh. When none of us had an answer, he sighed. “Look, sweetie. I’m as much for a good caper as any of you, but not at the expense of being stupid.” He glared at Roman. “You’ve been around for a while, I’ll give you credit for that, but you haven’t lived our lives. You haven’t had to answer to the system. We do. Don’t fuck things up for her with some far-fetched, crazy-ass theory.”

“What if it’s more than a theory?” asked Roman. “What if it’s true?”

Hugh met his gaze squarely. “Then make damned sure uncovering it is worth the consequences.”

Silence fell over us. At long last, Cody said, “How much do you think Jerome scared that waitress? Because I could really use a drink.”

Roman resumed his coaching, but a weird mood had descended upon us in the wake of the Milton and Erik revelation. We went through the motions, but it was clear no one’s heart was really in bowling. When we finally called it a night, Roman declared that we’d all improved but were still in need of more practice. Since that wasn’t a mystery to any of us, we set up a schedule for the rest of the week before dispersing. Roman caught a hold of my arm as I was walking out.

“I won’t be home tonight,” he said. “I’ve got some . . . things to do.”

“Things that are going to get you in trouble?” I asked warily.

“No more than I already am. Just figured I’d let you know in case . . .” He glanced at Seth, then me. “You know, just in case you wanted to know.”

“Thanks,” I said. Taking the hint, I turned to Seth once we were alone in the parking lot. “What do you think? Do you want to come have a sleepover? Or do you have to go back to Terry’s?”

Seth put his hands around my waist and drew me close. “Actually, I have the night off. Andrea was having a good day today.”

I remembered yesterday, how, despite her fatigue, it had been clear she’d significantly improved. I felt a flutter of hope in my chest and rejoiced at finally having something that was clear-cut and good in the world for a change. “Do you think she’s really healing? That the treatment’s working?”

“I don’t know,” he said wistfully. “I’d like to believe it. It would be . . . amazing. More than I could hope for.”

My heart ached for him and for the whole family. I didn’t know what to say, so I simply brushed a light kiss across his lips. They were warm in the chill air.

“Georgina,” he said, when I’d pulled back. “All this other stuff . . . about your contract and the transfer. This is the first I’m hearing about it.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to keep anything from you. It’s just . . . so much is still unknown. I didn’t want to bring it up when I don’t even fully understand what’s happening.”

“And I understand even less than you,” said Seth.

I nodded. “I didn’t want you to worry.”

He gazed down at me, eyes honest and full of affection. “You have to stop that. I’m not going to break. You can always talk to me about anything. We won’t get anywhere without things being open between us. We’re in this together, Thetis. What happens to you affects me. I want to be there for you.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s a hard habit to break . . . wanting to protect you.”

“One thing struck me . . . what Hugh said. Are you doing something dangerous? He’s right about Roman, isn’t he? That Roman doesn’t face the same consequences as the rest of you? I hate the thought . . . I hate the thought of you getting caught up in one of his schemes, that you might suffer for his rash actions.”

“I’m not sure they’re so rash,” I said. “At first, I did. But now, I think he really might be onto something. About Erik. About my transfer.”

“And if he is? What is there for you to gain? I mean, from what I know about Roman and nephilim, it’ll be enough for him if he can catch Hell in a cover-up. That’s what he gets his kicks from. But you . . . you answer to Hell. What do you get for uncovering some grand plan of theirs? Unhappy employers.”

I leaned against his chest, staring off into the night. The sky was clear, but we were too close to downtown to see much in the way of stars.

“I get the truth,” I said at last. “I don’t know how my transfer plays into Erik’s death – or if it even does – but if it’s true that Erik wasn’t killed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, then yeah. I need to know that. I need to know the truth.”

“It’s worth it?” He squeezed me tight. “Worth the risk to yourself?”

“Yes,” I whispered. “It’s worth it.”

Yet, even as I spoke, I thought of Erik – kind and wise Erik who did so much for others, with little regard for himself. Generous, wonderful Erik who had done so much for me and possibly lost his life for it. Finding out the truth of that, what he’d died for . . . yes, I’d meant what I said. It was worth any risk to me, but that didn’t negate the terribleness of it all. It couldn’t change what had happened to Erik. He was still dead, and the intrigue around us was only growing thicker and thicker.

“What’s the matter?” asked Seth. Without even thinking about it, I’d closed my eyes and buried my face closer to his chest, perhaps in some subconscious effort to hide from the storm I felt was brewing around me and my immortal world.

I opened my eyes and sighed. “Nothing. Everything. I don’t . . . I don’t want to think about any of it. At least for a little while. Tomorrow . . . this is all going to be waiting, I know. But please . . .” I pressed myself even closer to him, keeping my lips only a couple inches away. “Let’s go home. Help me to forget about this . . . just for tonight.”

Seth didn’t need to be told twice. His lips found mine, and we locked in a kiss that was both hungry and desperate. Heat and electricity coursed through me, making me oblivious to the winter night. When we broke away, both breathless, I just barely managed to say, “Meet you at my place.”

We each headed off for our own cars, which was a good thing since we probably would have been hazardous together if attempting to drive home in the same vehicle. As it was, I was kind of amazed at my ability to get back to my condo on Alki Beach without breaking any traffic laws. But once we reached my place, pulling into the lot at almost the same moment, that was it. We were all over each other and just barely had the sense to make it through my door before letting go completely.

I’d tried to put up a good front about resisting sex, but the truth was, I’d missed it as badly as Seth. All the flings in the world couldn’t make up for not doing it with him, the one I loved. My succubus duties were becoming even emptier and more hollow than usual. I still believed rationing our sex life was the smart and safe thing to do, but right now, I was willing to bend the rules.

He swept me into his arms as soon as we stepped inside my condo, still managing to kiss me at the same time. The cats, normally ready to pounce with love on anyone who came through the door, had enough sense to give us our space as we stumbled back toward the bedroom. Seth lost his balance while carrying me and only barely managed to make it to my bed when he stumbled, depositing us both in an unceremonious heap.

Had it really only been a month? As my mouth tasted his and my hands grew reacquainted with his body, I couldn’t help but think it felt more like years. I’d been in a drought. I’d been starving for him. I couldn’t get his T-shirt off fast enough and luxuriated in the feel of his bare skin under my fingertips. Seth was busy working on my shirt, which was a little difficult. The Unholy Rollers shirt didn’t go over my head so well, meaning each button had to be undone individually. He did it with infinite patience and skill, soon making quick work of the shirt underneath.

Once I was stripped, he gazed at me with the same longing and hunger I felt for him. He ran his hands over the length of my body, reverently tracing the curve of my hips and breasts. “So beautiful,” he murmured, drawing me on top of him. He then stretched back and shifted so that my breasts hung over his face, allowing him to take one of my nipples into his mouth. I gasped, not just because of the touch of his tongue – which was exquisite – but because it was Seth.

His lips and tongue teased my nipple until it was aching and tender. Then, he switched breasts, giving my other nipple the same adoration. Fire flared through me again, along with the silvery sweet high of his life energy. With it came his feelings – his love and passion for me – and the combination of it all was intoxicating. I cried out softly, and he slid me down so that our mouths could meet again, this time in a kiss so deep and crushing, it made the parking lot seem chaste.

As we kissed, I felt him slide a hand down the side of my body, moving toward my inner thighs. His fingers moved deftly as they explored me, slowly moving farther and farther until they slid inside of me. I exclaimed again, but the cry was swallowed in the kiss, which was so deep I felt as though I could hardly breathe. Patiently, those fingers danced around, testing me until he found the place that got the biggest reaction. Starting slowly, he stroked me over and over, playing with how wet I was, while intense pleasure lit all my nerve endings. I could easily put off my own climax as long as I needed, but there was no need tonight. I wanted to lose myself in him and let my body do whatever it wanted. What it wanted, as it turned out, was to come quickly. Seth and I had been apart too long, and my body has missed his touch.

A few more skillful touches, and I felt my lower body explode with bliss, the sensation so overwhelming that I wasn’t certain I could handle being touched anymore . . . even though I craved it. Seth continued teasing me until my orgasm finally subsided, and only then did he remove his fingers. He finally broke the kiss too, and we both gasped for breath, our eyes locked on each other.

“Come here,” I said, pulling him back toward me. Like me, Seth could’ve easily dragged out more foreplay . . . and like me, he didn’t want to. I guess this was the cost of “rationing.” It didn’t leave much room for patience.

His body pressed against mine, and I felt him push inside me, hard and ready. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him again as he began to thrust in and out of me. I wanted as much of him as I could get, wanted to make contact with as much of his body as I could. As we made love, though, I had the same sense I always did: even with him in me, pushing as hard as he could, he would never be close enough to me. I always wanted more of him. Our bodies were meant to be together, I decided. There was something so wonderfully, agonizingly right about the feel of him inside of me.

“Georgina,” he gasped, as his motions grew faster and more intense. “You’re amazing. Beyond amazing. . . .”

If any more sentiments were there, I never found out. His face transformed as his orgasm seized him, his body surging forward into mine with a new intensity. He let out a soft groan as he came, still thrusting as he took every last bit of pleasure that he could. And as he came, I felt the full surge of his stolen life force. It was glorious and heady, and I tried to accept it as part of the rest of the experience. I didn’t want to ruin this moment with guilt.

When Seth’s body finally slowed, he collapsed onto me, resting his head on my chest. He exhaled heavily and planted a kiss between my breasts. “Did I mention that you’re amazing ?” he asked.

I sighed contentedly and ran my hand through his hair, which was now even more messed up than usual. “Not that amazing,” I remarked. “I feel like you did all the work.”

He kissed me again. “That’s what’s great about you, Thetis. You don’t even know when you’re being amazing.”

I felt a smile creeping over my face, and it had nothing to do with the compliments. Georgina. Thetis. The old, familiar nicknames. After the last time we’d had sex, some frightened part of me had worried I was in for a repeat and that he’d call me Letha again. But, no. That memory, that name . . . they were all gone, just like the person I used to be.

“I love you,” I said, because it seemed the only adequate response.

“Mmm.” He snuggled closer. “Let’s not wait so long next time, okay?”

I laughed softly. “We’re going to wait even longer. I don’t think monthly sex is going to work if we ration for a lifetime. It’s still too frequent.”

He groaned. “Come on. I don’t mind the risks. It’s worth it. I could be content with biweekly sex. Tonight was proof you can’t hold out very long either.”

“Biweekly! That’s definitely too frequent. You only got it tonight because I suddenly had a moment of crisis.”

He chuckled, though it was soon lost in a yawn. “If I got sex every time you had ‘a moment of crisis,’ then I’d probably be getting it every night.”

I gently elbowed him. “That’s not true.” I thought about it. “Much.”

He laughed again and wrapped his arms around me, keeping us close. “Oh, Georgina. You make everything we go through worthwhile. Everything.”

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