Maddie claimed that even Seth’s family didn’t know where he was.According to her, he’d really just…vanished.He wasn’t answering his phone.
He wasn’t showing up at the bookstore. When people disappeared, I immediately jumped to supernatural conclusions, but Maddie then added – through more tears – that she used her key to get her belongings from Seth’s place and found a suitcase and some clothing missing. Feeling guilty about having the key anymore, she then shoved it into my hand and told me to return it. Or throw it away.
I did my best to comfort her some more and then offered to take her over to Doug’s. Roman shot me a warning look as we were about to leave.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” he said out of Maddie’s hearing.
“I knew your nice bedside manner wouldn’t last,” I returned.
Despite Doug’s slacker rocker-boy lifestyle, I knew Maddie’d be in good hands with him. I dropped her off there and found Doug a mixture of personas. To Maddie, he was astonishingly kind and gentle – the caring brother as opposed to the usual teasing brother. Once she was lying down in the other room, he made sure I knew exactly what he thought of Seth in very explicit detail. There wasn’t much I could say to that except that they should call me if they needed anything. I left.
In spite of Maddie’s words, I drove to Terry and Andrea’s anyway. Seth ending things with Maddie so abruptly was crazy – almost crazier than him proposing to her in the first place. But him disappearing without telling his family? No. He wouldn’t do that. He was too responsible. Most likely he’d told them not to tell Maddie where he was.
Kendall opened the door when I arrived, her face lighting up like Christmas morning. “Georgina! Georgina’s here!” Morgan and McKenna, who had been watching cartoons, came tearing over and each wrapped themselves around a leg.
“Nice to see you guys too,” I laughed.
Terry had been sitting on the couch near the twins and came over to me with a little less zeal. “Hey, Georgina,” he said, face typically friendly. He was shorter than Seth and a few years older, but overall, they bore a notable resemblance. “Sorry for the mass assault.”
“No problem.” I unwound Morgan from me, but McKenna proved a little more resistant. Glancing back at Terry, I said hesitantly, “I was wondering if I could talk to you, uh, about something.”
Terry wasn’t stupid. None of the Mortensens were. “Sure,” he said. “Girls, let go of Georgina and go back to the cartoons. We’re going to go into the kitchen.”
“But we want her to watch TV with us!”
“Can we come?”
Terry laid down firm but friendly fatherly law, and with great reluctance, the girls returned to the couch. I was impressed. I wasn’t sure I could have refused that group anything. He led me to the kitchen, but before either of us could say anything, Andrea came in from down the hall, smiling in surprise when she saw me. I smiled in surprise right back at her, but it was more from her appearance than anything else. It was the middle of the day, but she wore a robe over pajamas. Her mussed blond hair and dark eye circles suggested she’d been sleeping.
Terry had been leaning against the counter but jumped up when he saw her. “Oh, honey, you should go back to bed.”
She shrugged him off. “I wanted to see who’s here. How’s it going?”
“Fine,” I said. Then, unable to resist: “Are you feeling okay?”
“A little under the weather. Fortunately, Terry’s manning up today. He does almost as good a job as me with the girls.”
I laughed politely at the joke, but it soon faded. We stood awkwardly for a moment, everyone knowing why I was here but no one doing anything about it. Finally, I took a deep breath.
“I’ve come to ask you where Seth is.”
“Funny,” said Andrea. “We were going to ask you the same thing.”
I was taken aback. “How would I know?”
They both just stared.
“When this happened a couple days ago…this thing with Maddie…” Terry glanced uneasily at his wife before continuing. “We just assumed, well, that it was because of you.”
“Why would it be because of me? I just found out about this today.”
“It’s always been because of you,” said Andrea gently. “There was never anyone else. We like Maddie. He likes her. But that’s the problem. Throughout it all, we could just tell that you were always the one. Now, whatever happened between you guys to make it go bad isn’t any of our business. We’re just not that surprised to see this new development.”
“We would, however, like to know where he is,” said Terry more pragmatically.
“I don’t know,” I said helplessly, still a little stunned by Andrea’s words. “Maddie said he’d packed up, and I figured you guys were keeping his location a secret from her.” I eyed them suspiciously. “And me?”
“No,” said Terry. “We really don’t know.” I didn’t have an angel’s talent, but I believed he was telling the truth.
Andrea nodded in agreement. “He just called us a couple days ago and said he’d ended things. Didn’t give any explanation – but well, you know how he is. He doesn’t explain much anyway. Then, when Maddie and no one else had seen him, we started to get worried.”
A couple days ago. Seth had ended things with her a couple days ago – when the whole soul retrieval gig had gone down.
“We actually tried calling you,” added Terry. “But never got an answer.”
“Ah, yeah. I’ve been sick this week too.” Eyeing Andrea – who looked exhausted – I suddenly felt bad for taking up any more of their time. “Look, I should go. Thanks for the info. Will you…let me know if you hear from him?”
Andrea smiled again. “Something tells me you’ll hear from him before we do.”
I wasn’t as confident. Leaving the house was a little tricky since the other girls didn’t want me to go, but I managed to escape their adorable clutches at last and make a break for it.
I was walking toward my car when a voice said, “She’s sick, you know.”
I turned, startled, and saw Brandy standing near a gate that led to their backyard. She had the same sullen look about her she’d had for so long. “Hey,” I said in greeting. “Where’d you come from?”
“I was around. I heard you talking to Mom and Dad.”
I replayed Brandy’s initial words. “Your mom…you mean she’s sick, right? I could tell.”
“No, I mean she’s really sick. She’s really sick, and they won’t talk about it.” Brandy gave a nod toward the front door. “No one else knows. Not even Uncle Seth knows just how sick she is.”
A chilly breeze stirred dried leaves around my feet, but it was nothing compared to the cold starting to fill me. “Just how sick are we talking, Brandy?”
Brandy scuffed her feet against the driveway, eyes averted. “She has ovarian cancer. It’s bad…but they’re still trying to figure out just how bad it is.”
“She was going to the doctor that day I was here,” I recalled aloud. Andrea had been so bright and cheery, I’d assumed something routine was going on. I also realized I hadn’t technically been here; I’d seen it in a dream. Fortunately, Brandy was too distracted to notice my slip.
“She’s been at the doctor a lot. Dad’s missing tons of work. Uncle Seth’s helped out sometimes, and I’ve been babysitting all the time.”
I suddenly felt incredibly selfish. I’d been assuming Brandy’s moodiness was all over me and Seth breaking up. But that was only a symptom of the larger problem. Her mother was dangerously ill, and every part of her world was destabilizing. Her own life was probably being put on hold to watch her sisters, and even something like her uncle’s romantic life could ripple what she’d regarded as the norm. All the constants in her world were disappearing.
“Brandy, I – “
“I have to go,” she interrupted, heading back toward the gate, face stony. “Kayla’ll be up from her nap soon. I’m supposed to keep an eye on her today.”
Brandy disappeared around the corner before I could say anything. I stood there, feeling lost. I didn’t know who I felt worse for: Brandy and Terry for knowing what was going on or the little girls for being oblivious. I felt bad enough for myself because there was nothing I could do. There was never anything I could do. I had powers beyond human imaginings, but they were nothing that could actually help humans.
I drove downtown with a heavy heart, trying hard – and failing – not to overreact. Brandy herself had said things were bad but that they were still learning the extent of it. Surely there were more tests, tests that would give some hope. And surely there was treatment. Humans could do that much on their own.
Jerome was where I’d hoped he’d be. Really, I decided, the Cellar was nearly as good as him having an office. Carter was by his side at the back table, both of them doing shots from a bottle of Jägermeister. Those two didn’t discriminate among their liquor. I wondered if they were drinking away the hardships of the other day or toasting their success over it.
It must have been the latter because Jerome almost smiled when he saw me. “Georgie, out among the living and back to your petite self. Yet…so blue. Blue like always.”
Yes, they’d been drinking. Angels and demons could sober up at will, and he was apparently indulging in the full effects.
“I got some bad news,” I said, sitting opposite them.
“What, about losing Mortensen?” asked Jerome.
“How do you know about that?”
“I talked to Roman. He recapped your day – the old man checking in, you comforting your romantic rival…it was quite moving.”
I scowled. “Great. You have Roman spying on me.”
“It’s not spying. I just demand answers from him. If it makes you feel better, he’s never very happy to give up those answers.”
“How often do you do it?” I asked incredulously.
“Not that often.” A waiter set down a new bottle. “Mostly I wanted to see how you were recovering post-dream.”
“Fine. I’m fine.” I glanced at Carter. “No comments from you today?”
“Leave me out of this,” he replied. “I’m just drinking.” So he said, but he was also watching and listening very carefully. He was not letting the alcohol affect him.
I turned back to Jerome. “I’ve come to call in my favor.”
The dark amusement in his eyes turned to suspicion. “What favor?”
“The one you promised me for helping save you from Grace, remember?”
Yes, no amusement at all anymore. “I just rescued you from another plane of existence from creatures who were torturing your mind.”
I flinched but pushed on with my words. “You promised a favor, and I didn’t call it in for that. Besides, you would have done it anyway so that you wouldn’t get in trouble.”
“That favor offer was brought on by the drama at the time,” he countered. “I probably said all sorts of things.”
“You promised,” I repeated.
“I can understand you just fine without putting italics in your voice, Georgie,” he snapped.
“You did, though,” pointed out Carter. Demons could lie – and did – but certain deals they were bound to. Jerome had said he’d grant me a favor out on the beach, and it had been a true promise.
“Fine,” he said irritably, gesturing for another shot. “What is it you want? And I don’t have to grant it if it’s something totally unreasonable.”
“I want to know – “
“Careful,” interrupted Carter.
I paused, and Jerome glared at the angel. Carter offered no other insight, but those gray eyes were still watchful – and cautious. Which was what I needed to be. Jerome had promised me a favor, and like all demons, he would try to find as many loopholes in it as possible. I had been about to ask where Seth was, but that wouldn’t necessarily do me any good. I wouldn’t be able to get to Seth.
“I want you to send me to Seth so I can spend a few days with him.”
Jerome studied me, expression shrewd. “There’s a couple problems. One is that you’ve kind of asked for two things. The other is that I’m not omniscient. I don’t know where he is.”
“You can find out,” I said. “At least, if he’s flown anywhere, you can find out.”
Seth packing indicated serious travel. Maddie had said his car was still at the house, meaning he hadn’t driven somewhere. If he had, he’d be harder to track. But airports had records, and Hell had its hand in that kind of thing. Jerome could easily get an imp or lesser demon to access Sea-Tac’s records this week and see where Seth had gone. I probably could have asked Hugh to do it, but that wouldn’t have gotten me leave to actually go to Seth, hence my wording.
“And we both know it’d be stupid for you to send me right there and right back. Asking for a few days makes it worthwhile or else it’s a shitty favor.”
“Debatable,” Jerome replied.
“It could be worse,” said Carter. “She didn’t ask for world peace or anything.”
“Stay out of this,” returned the demon. “I know what you want.”
Carter shrugged and ordered another drink.
“Fine,” said Jerome at last. “I’ll have Hugh check travel records. You know there might not be a paper trail.”
“I know. But if you find him?”
“Then you can go to him. For now, go home. You’re ruining my good mood. I’ll find you if there’s news.”
I didn’t need to be told twice. “Soon,” I said. “You have to search soon.”
Jerome’s lips quirked. “You didn’t put that into the wording.”
Carter elbowed him, and I had to take it on faith that Jerome would act in a timely manner. My words had implied that I wanted to be where Seth was now. One could argue that waiting meant Seth would change locations, meaning I couldn’t have what I wanted. I also had to believe that Carter had a point in saying this was a relatively easy favor. I could have demanded more.
Simple or not, it was hard to wait to hear back. Roman was gone when I returned to my condo, and I had nothing to do but ruminate. I’d given myself a leave of absence at work and didn’t regret it. Still, being alone with my thoughts was never a good thing, and I had far too many to trouble me: the Oneroi, Seth, Andrea…
It was four hours later when Jerome appeared in my living room with a pop.
I sagged in relief. “You found him?”
“And you’ll send me to him – for a worthwhile amount of time?”
“Three days,” the demon said. He sounded irritable and impatient. I’d wondered if he’d been drinking this entire time and was angry at the interruption. “I want you back here in seventy-two hours, and you’re on your own as to how you do it. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said eagerly. “Just send me to him.” I had to talk to him. I had to find out exactly what had happened. I had to make sure he was okay.
“And that settles the favor. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” I said. There was power in that word, just as there had been in Jerome’s initial promise. I could ask for nothing else.
“Then go,” he said.
I vanished from my living room……and reappeared on a busy sidewalk. People swarmed around me, none of them seeming to notice I’d appeared out of thin air. The sun was on its way down, but the sky was bright and clear – and hot. Very hot. The masses around me were dressed in beach clothes and had the feel of tourists. I stepped out of their path and found myself standing in front of a large, resort-type hotel.
The abrupt change in location – and discomfort of teleportation – had left me disoriented, and I needed to get my bearings. Taking in more of my surroundings, I could hear people speaking in both Spanish and English. I turned to the closest person near me, a short, deeply tanned man in a hotel uniform who was directing taxis around the building’s driveway.
I started to ask where I was and decided that would be a little too stupid sounding. I pointed at the hotel and asked him what its name was. I knew tons of languages perfectly, and Spanish rolled off my lips easily.
“El Grande Mazatl??n, señorita,” he replied.
Mazatl??n? This time, I did ask a stupid question: “¿Estoy in M?¦xico?”
He nodded, giving me the are-you-crazy look I’d expected. It was probably made worse by my jaw dropping.
Well, I supposed if you were going to run away, you should run away somewhere warm.