I’d been bracing myself for “Cleveland” or “Guam.” I was too much of a pessimist to think I might be offered something even moderately appealing.If I was already going through the trauma of leaving Seattle, then surely it would be for somewhere terrible.
“Did you say Las Vegas?” I asked, sinking down onto my couch.Immediately, I guessed the catch.
“Ah. It’s not Las Vegas, Nevada, right? It’s a different Las Vegas. New Mexico ? Or some other continent?”
“Sorry to disappoint you and your martyr fantasies, Georgie.” Jerome lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. “It’s Las Vegas, Nevada. I think you even know the archdemon there – Luis. Isn’t he a friend of yours?”
I blinked. “Luis? Yeah. I mean, in as much as an archdemon can be.” That got a small smile from Jerome, though I only barely noticed. I had worked for Luis a long time ago, and if I had to be honest, he was probably my favorite boss of all time. That wasn’t to say Jerome was a terrible one, but Luis – while strict – still had an easy way about him that could sometimes make you forget you were damned for all eternity. “So . . . my orders are to go to Las Vegas and work for Luis.”
“Yes,” said Jerome.
I looked back at him from where I’d been staring vacantly out the window. “Is there any way to change that? To stop it? Isn’t there anything I can do to just stay here? And are you sure it’s not a mistake – what with the delivery mix-up?”
Jerome’s dark eyebrows rose. It was one of those rare moments when he’d been caught off-guard enough to display surprise. “You don’t want to go? I mean, I’m flattered you’d want to stay under my rule, but I’d think you would be pleased with this situation. Las Vegas is perfect for a half-ass succubus like you.”
I ignored the jab – though he had a point. Las Vegas was such a breeding ground for sin and salvation that it was nearly packed to bursting with servants of both Heaven and Hell. It probably had one of the highest concentrations of succubi in the world, meaning it was easy to slide by with quotas. Here, I was the only succubus, so my number of corrupted souls was scrutinized heavily. In Las Vegas, there’d be plenty of go-getter succubi to cover for slackers like me.
“It’s not about you,” I said slowly. “It’s about . . . Seth.”
Jerome sighed loudly and stamped out his cigarette on my coffee table. I supposed I should be glad it wasn’t my couch or carpet. “Of course it is. Because in the grand scheme of the universe, your boyfriend is important enough to make Hell’s HR change their minds about a re-org. Come on, Georgie. How naive are you? How many transfers have you had over the years? Or perhaps I should ask, how many transfers do you know of that were cancelled because someone ‘didn’t feel like it’?”
“None,” I admitted. At most, Hell would take unhappy employees into account and move them out of places they weren’t being productive. I had requested transfers before and gotten a couple of them. But once HR made up its mind? That was it. The cold truth of this, that it wasn’t a mistake and that I couldn’t stop it, was beginning to wrap around me. I tried to make sense of it another way. “But why? Why did they decide to this? I’ve been a good employee. . . .” Yet, even as I spoke, I grew uncertain. Jerome looked at me knowingly.
“I haven’t been a bad employee,” I amended. “Not exactly.”
“This isn’t a game. We don’t want mediocre employees who can keep the status quo. We want souls. We want to win. And you’ve spent most of your time here being mediocre. Don’t glare at me like that. You know I’m right. You’ve had fits and starts of productivity, the most notable being when you were under duress. Even that’s been inconsistent.” I’d made a bargain with Jerome a year ago, in which I’d behaved like a model succubus for a while. After I’d helped rescue him from summoning, there’d been an unspoken acceptance of me slacking off once again without getting any grief from him. “If you’d thrived here and turned over large amounts of souls, I doubt you’d be leaving. So, if you’re looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror.”
“You sure sound smug about this,” I pointed out petulantly. “Like you’re happy about it.”
“Happy? Happy about the gamble of getting a new employee – or of inheriting Tawny permanently? Hardly. But unlike you, I accept that my happiness means nothing to my superiors. The only thing that matters is me following their orders.” His tone and expression clearly said that the same was true for me.
I almost never held back from sparring with Jerome, but today I did. Why? Because there was nothing I could say, no bargain I could make with him. I’d negotiated a number of favors and allowances in my years with him, things specifically pertaining to my existence here within Seattle. That was his domain. But the rest of the world? That was out of his control. There was nothing he could do to change this reassignment, even if he wanted to. There was nothing I could do either. You just couldn’t fight against some things. Hell was one of them. When I’d signed my soul away, I’d signed away control of my eternity to them as well.
“It’s not fair.” Guessing Jerome’s snappy retort, I quickly added, “I know, you don’t have to say it. Life isn’t fair. I get it. But it’s just . . . it’s just cruel. Seth and I finally managed a working relationship. And now I have to leave him.”
Jerome shook his head, and I could tell by his restless stance that he was ready to go. His patience with this conversation was running thin.
“You know, I might miss some of your witticisms when you’re gone, but one thing I won’t miss? Your overwhelming sense of melodrama and despair.
It’s too much even for me.”
The sorrow and self-pity within me transformed to anger. “I’m sorry, but this is serious to me! How can I not be upset? I love Seth. I don’t want to leave him.”
“So don’t. Take him with you. Or date long distance. I honestly don’t give a fuck, so long as you stop your whining. How can you not see solutions here? You’ve apparently decided that you being immortal isn’t a deterrent to your great love . . . but a two-hour plane ride is?”
I felt kind of cowed. Normally, I resented Jerome for mocking me when I was upset because I blamed it on his lack of empathy. But now, I had to admit that maybe he was onto something about me being overly melodramatic. Why couldn’t I take Seth with me? If Seth really loved me, a move shouldn’t be a problem. And of all the jobs in the world, he had one of the best suited for a change of venue. Unfortunately, it was a bit more complicated than that. I sighed.
“I don’t know if he would. His family’s here, and his sister-in-law’s sick. He can’t leave them anytime soon. . . .”
Jerome shrugged. “We’re back to the part where I don’t give a fuck. I do, however, care that you go there to visit sooner rather than later. Luis asked if I’d send you down in advance to scope out the area for a couple of days. Seeing as bowling practice doesn’t start until Monday, I can’t help but think this weekend would be an excellent time to get that out of the way. I’m happy to oblige him – but not at the cost of interfering with my team.”
“Really?” I scoffed. “You expect me to care about bowling in light of all this?”
He gave me a thin-lipped smile. “Seeing as you’re still my employee for the next four weeks, yes. I expect you to care about it immensely.” He glanced over at Roman, who had observed all of this silently. “And I expect you to come up with an excellent training regimen for them. I’ll see you both then.”
Jerome vanished in a poof of smoke, further verifying how self-satisfied he felt about all of this. Losing me might be inconvenient for him, but I think his demon nature still took some delight in seeing the torment of others.
I covered my eyes and rolled over to lie flat on the couch. “Oh God. What am I going to do? This can’t be happening.”
Breaking up with Seth last year had torn my heart apart. I had wanted to die. Being reunited with him had felt like being born anew. I’d loved life, even my damned one. Now I was starting to feel that terrible, aching desperation again. It wasn’t possible that someone could go through so many extreme ups and downs in so short a time span. Welcome to being in love, I thought.
I felt Roman sit down by my feet. A moment later, both cats joined us. I uncovered my eyes and found his sea green ones staring down at me. “He wasn’t exactly tactful, but I have to admit he had a point. Why wouldn’t Seth just move with you?”
“Under normal circumstances . . .” I had to pause in order to not start laughing. Our circumstances were never normal. “Under normal circumstances, he would. But like I was saying, with Andrea, I don’t even think he can. And honestly, I wouldn’t want him to.” I didn’t realize that was true until I spoke the words. If Seth dropped everything to run off with me, he would be hurting both himself and his family for my sake. I could never allow that. My heart sank. “I can’t believe this. How could this have come about so quickly? I was so happy.”
Roman scratched Aubrey’s head and leaned back. “That’s an excellent question. This was all kind of sudden. Is that how it normally is?”
“Well, I mean, we never get much warning of transfers. Sometimes you know a re-org is coming. Sometimes you get one after requesting a transfer. Usually, though, someone has a meeting, plans your fate, and you find out about it later. The only weird thing here was Jerome apparently having less notice than me.”
Roman had been staring at the ceiling and then snapped his head back to look at me. I flinched under the intensity of his gaze. “Explain that again. What happened and what was unusual.”
I started to tell him I’d just explained it but instead swallowed off any sharp retort, knowing he wasn’t the true source of my irritation. “Normally, your archdemon meets with you to tell you the details, and then the letter with the transfer date follows. This happened so fast that I got the letter before Jerome had a chance to talk to me.”
“Hell doesn’t do things without a reason.” He reconsidered. “Well, impromptu bowling competitions aside. But they like their bureaucracy, their paperwork, and all their details in order. Even if they quickly decided to do a transfer, they’d still follow all their inane procedures. For the letter to have jumped ahead of Jerome getting his instructions, things must have been seriously expedited. The question: why? Why such a rush to get you out of Seattle?”
I couldn’t help a smile. “You’re looking for a conspiracy here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think this sucks. It’s terrible. But I don’t think there’s anything more to it than what Jerome said about me skimping at my job. Which . . . well, which is my fault.”
“Yes, but Hell deals with bad employees all the time. They go through reams of procedure to figure out the best way to deal with those people. Pop might be right that Hell can’t tolerate mediocre workers, but it’s not to the extent that they have to deal with it right that second. What’s so special about you that someone would suddenly decide to initiate a hasty transfer?”
I appreciated that Roman was trying to help me, but I didn’t want to get caught up in what could easily become an obsessive quest for him. Nephilim had serious grudges with Heaven and Hell and were always looking for ways to challenge and thwart them. Roman himself had once gone on a killing spree of higher immortals. There was something in his nature that wanted there to be more than bad luck here, but I just wasn’t sure I believed there was.
Carter’s words echoed in my head, no matter how much I tried to shrug them off: If there’s a reason, it’s because you’ve been doing something Hell doesn’t want you to do.
“You should talk to Carter,” I muttered. “He’s certain there’s a reason too.” Seeing Roman’s expectant look, I halfheartedly tried to humor him. “I don’t know what it could be. Maybe because I got captured by Oneroi? Maybe they’re worried I’m unstable or something. Or that this isn’t a safe place for me.”
Roman nodded along with my words. “That does make you special. However, if I was worried about an employee losing it, I’d want to keep them in a place where I knew they felt stable. I’m sure Hell knows you’re happy here, and if anything, they might think that experience bound you to Jerome more closely. They’d want to encourage that loyalty.”
“Hell doesn’t need to encourage loyalty,” I told him. “All they care about is that I signed my soul over to them. That’s bigger than loyalty.”
A startled look crossed his face. “That is all they care about. Georgina, when did this happen? Exactly when did this happen?”
“Er, the letter?”
There was a fanatic look in his eyes. No question. He was getting obsessed. “Yes.”
“This morning. It showed up at Seth’s. I sensed the courier and woke up to it.”
“You were at Seth’s. What were you doing at the time? What were you doing just before then?” He’d stopped petting Aubrey, and she slithered toward me in a huff, seeking a more attentive audience. “Walk me backward from that point.”
“Well, like I said, I was sleeping. Before that . . .” I winced, remembering getting into bed with Ian. “I met Seth’s mom and younger brother. Before that, I was at Peter’s fondue party. Before that, I was at the mall – “
“Peter’s. Tell me about Peter’s. Did anything weird happen to you there?”
I cut him a look. “It was a fondue party at a vampire’s. Everything about that is weird.”
“I’m trying to help you!” There was a strained, agitated quality to his voice as he leaned toward me. “Just hold off on the jokes, okay? Think. What happened – to you specifically? What did you talk about? What did they say to you?”
I was growing increasingly uncomfortable at his intensity. “They were teasing me about my job,” I said.
“Of course. He said me being an elf was an embarrassment and that I should do something else.” A shocking thought hit me. “Roman . . . you don’t think Jerome requested the transfer, did you? Could he really be that upset with me? That embarrassed?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Roman. He absentmindedly ran a hand through his curling dark hair. “It’s possible. Some of the weirdness might be explained away if Jerome was trying to hide that he initiated all this. But then, it’s not like any of your other friends are exactly normal. If something was going to embarrass Jerome enough to get rid of an employee, I kind of feel like there would have been a lot of other opportunities before you. Anything else come up?”
“I asked them about – ” I hesitated. The topic was still sensitive for me. It was hard to mention to Roman, and I could hardly believe I’d had the guts to bring it up to the gang that night. Roman caught my uncertainty and pounced. “What? What else? What did you ask them about?”
I waited a few more moments and then decided to tell him. It couldn’t hurt, and besides, for all I knew, Roman had mentioned my name to Seth.
“About a month ago, when we were in bed, Seth called me Letha when he was half-asleep. When I asked him how he knew that name, he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t even remember calling me that. So, I asked the group that night if any of them had told my name to Seth.”
“And they all said no. Cody didn’t even know my name. I got berated for being melodramatic again, and the general consensus was that Seth had just overheard it from me or someone else and forgotten.”
Roman was silent, which was almost more unnerving than him grilling me. I straightened up and nudged him.
“Hey, you didn’t tell Seth, did you?”
“Huh? No.” He frowned, caught up in his own thoughts. “What did Jerome think? Did he concur with that theory?”
“Yes. He thought me bringing it up was a total waste of time and didn’t hesitate to tell me. He was so bored by it that he started talking about bowling instead.”
“That’s when he told you about the bowling team? The bowling team that came out of nowhere?”
“Yeah. . . .” Now I was frowning. It was clear that Roman’s thoughts were running off to a place I wasn’t at or able to follow. “Why? What are you thinking? Is this related somehow?”
“I don’t know,” he said at last. He stood up and paced the living room a couple of times. “I need to think about this. I need to ask some questions. What are you going to do now?”
I rose as well and stretched, suddenly feeling weary. “I need to talk to Seth. I have to tell him what happened. And I suppose . . .” I made a face. “If I do have to go to Las Vegas, this weekend is the time to do it.”
“So you don’t miss bowling practice?” teased Roman.
“That, and I have it off from work. Seth’s pretty tied up with his family in town, which makes it another good time to go. Although . . . it’d kind of be nice if he went with me. I mean, if he was going to think about moving, he could check it out too.” Yet, again, that worry returned to me: how could I ask Seth to abandon Terry and Andrea?
“Actually,” said Roman, humor vanishing, “I think it’s best he doesn’t go.”
“Because whatever the reasons, something’s just not right about this. I don’t know what’s waiting for you in Las Vegas. Maybe nothing. But I just feel like there’s a larger hand in all of this, guiding it, and that it’s safest for Seth if you don’t drag him into immortal drama.” Roman’s face softened. “I’m actually not thrilled about you facing it alone, but I’m not sure me walking into a hotbed of immortal activity is so smart either.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, trying to not be put off by his ominous words. “No matter how terrible a transfer is, I have to admit, I got kind of lucky with this one. I mean, I’m not saying I trust any demons, but if I had to, it would be Luis. He’s really great, and Vegas is, well, Vegas. Like I said. I got lucky.”
Roman grew thoughtful again. “Yes. Yes, you did.”
The next day, I found Seth later at his brother’s house. Andrea had had another treatment that day and was sleeping it off. Seth and Margaret were helping take care of the household as best they could, cooking a late dinner and watching the girls. I arrived at about the same time as Terry got home from work, and our double entrance was greeted with shouts and hugs. I scooped Kayla up in my arms and kissed her while Terry asked what I had been wondering.
Seth and Margaret exchanged looks. “Ian had some things to do,” she said neutrally.
“Yeah,” agreed Seth. “In the form of scoping out ironic parts of Seattle.”
So much for Ian stepping up to help the family. No doubt he’d found new hipster friends at a coffee shop and was now hanging out with them somewhere, drinking PBR and regaling them with stories of all the obscure bands he knew.
Terry smiled good-naturedly. “Well, that’s his loss because dinner smells great. More for us.” He swung Kendall around and kissed his other daughters before going upstairs to check on Andrea. I felt a lump form in my throat as I watched him go. He put on such a good face for the kids, but I knew this had to be tearing his heart apart. My own petty concerns seemed exactly that: petty. Small. Inconsequential.
Nonetheless, news of the transfer weighed on my mind throughout dinner. I’d wanted to wait until Seth and I were alone at his place, but my face must have betrayed my feelings.
“Hey,” he said gently, slipping an arm around me. The family was gathered in the living room, starting a movie, while Seth and I stood in the doorway to the kitchen. “Everything okay?” I hesitated, unsure about bringing it up here. Sensing that, he pulled me into the privacy of the kitchen. “Thetis, talk to me.”
“I got some bad news today,” I began. I tried to think of a clever or funny way to lead into it, but nothing came. So, I just blurted it all out, explaining the inarguable nature of transfers and the details of mine.
“Las Vegas,” he said flatly. He looked as though he’d been slapped. “You’re moving to Las Vegas.”
“Not for a month,” I said, clasping his hands. “And believe me, I don’t want to. God, Seth. I still can’t believe it. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
“Hey, don’t apologize. Not for this.” He drew me near, the kindness and compassion on his face nearly making me cry. “This isn’t your fault. You have nothing to be sorry about.”
I shook my head. “I know, but . . . it’s just so crazy. I thought this was it. Our chance to be together. And now I don’t know what to do. I can’t ask you to . . .”
“Ask me to what?”
I leaned my head against his chest. “Come with me.”
He was quiet for a few moments. “Would they let me? I always thought . . . I mean, whenever you’ve talked about your past, it always sounded like you reinvented yourself. New name, new appearance. I thought you had to leave your past life behind.”
“I have, but that was always just my choice. For you . . . I mean, of course I wouldn’t do that. I’d stay Georgina Kincaid, just as you know her. But you can’t leave them.” I gestured to the living room. “It’s not worth it.”
Seth moved his hands to my head, tilting my face up so I could look him in the eye. “Georgina,” he said softly. “I love you. You’re worth it. You’re everything to me. I’d follow you to the ends of the earth. And beyond.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” I smiled sadly. “And I’m not everything. You love them too. And you’d hate yourself for running off with me while they need you so much.”
“So, what? You’ve made my choice for me?” he asked. There was a playful note to his voice, despite the deadly seriousness of the topic. “Are we breaking up?”
“No! Of course not. I just . . . I just want you to know that I don’t expect you to come with me. Do I want to be with you? Yes, of course. But I love your family, Seth. I love all of them. My happiness . . .” It was strange, speaking those words. My happiness. For so long, I’d been miserable. Happiness wasn’t even a concept I’d imagined for myself in ages. “My happiness isn’t worth theirs.”
He leaned down and brushed his lips against mine. “What about mine?”
I stared in astonishment. “Are you saying you’d abandon them and run off to Las Vegas?”
“No,” he said firmly. “I would never abandon them. But there must be some middle ground here. Some way that doesn’t involve sacrificing us or them. We just have to figure it out. What we have is too important. Don’t give up on us yet, okay?”
I hugged him, losing myself in the sweetness of his warmth and scent. My heart had lightened a little at his words, but I still didn’t want to get my hopes up. There was too much at stake, still too much that could go wrong.
“I love you,” I told him.
“I love you too.” He squeezed me tight and then kissed me again before pulling apart. “Now. Let’s go watch that movie and pretend to be social so that we can leave early.”
“Because if you’re going to Vegas this weekend, then I want to get you home and get some quality time in tonight.”
I grinned and put my arm around him. “Does ‘quality time’ mean what I think it does?”
“Yes,” he said, as we walked back to the living room. “Yes, it does.”
“Well, then, you know that’s against the rules.”
“Rules that you made up,” he pointed out.
“Rules that are for your own good,” I corrected. “It’s not time yet. Remember, we have to ration ourselves.”
It was part of the conditions of us getting back together. Keeping strictly platonic before had strained us, so this time, I’d agreed that some sex was okay . . . even though I cringed at the thought of how each act, no matter how small, would take away some of his life. Seth had told me he didn’t care, that he’d take any risk to be with me. I was still cautious, and he’d yielded to me to set the schedule for our rationed sex life. I still wasn’t entirely sure what constituted proper rationing in this situation, but something in my head said we should have sex only every few months. I hadn’t told Seth that, though. It had been one month since the last – and only – time we’d had sex since getting back together as a mortal and a succubus, and I knew he was getting restless. It was especially difficult for him because although he respected me, he also didn’t think such caution was needed when he was the one who faced the dangers – dangers he swore he didn’t mind.
“Not tonight,” I continued.
“It’s practically a special occasion, though,” he told me. “A big send-off.”
“Hey, I didn’t say we couldn’t do anything,” I replied. “Just not as much as you’d like to do.” One thing we’d inherited from our chaste days was a set of several creative workarounds, mostly involving doing unto ourselves what we couldn’t do unto each other. “The question is, is there going to be a problem with your houseguests?”
“Not if we’re quiet,” Seth said. After a moment, he shrugged. “Scratch that. I don’t care. Let them hear.”
I scoffed. “Oh, yeah. So that your mom can come break down your door with her baseball bat.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, kissing my cheek. “She’s no match for you and that dictionary.”