Succubus Shadows Chapter 22

I wandered into the hotel, still a bit stunned by the situation I found myself in.Seth was…in Mexico.Presuming Jerome was holding true to his bargain, of course.

I had to believe he was, but the question was if he’d actually sent me near Seth. That was a wording in my request that could be blurred a little. Glancing up at the hotel, I hoped Jerome’s minions had gone as far as to search local hotels for Seth’s name when they tracked the plane ticket. With a quick smile to the man who’d helped me, I headed toward the hotel’s entrance.

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In a place that catered to so many tourists, plenty of the staff spoke English, not that it mattered much to me. I went to the front desk, asking if they had a guest named Seth Mortensen. The woman working there looked it up, and when she found him in their computer, I caught my breath. He was here. I’d really found him.

Well, kind of. When I asked her for his room number, she told me the hotel couldn’t disclose that information. She could, however, connect me to his room. I hesitated before accepting. If Seth truly didn’t want to be found, he might change his hotel or even city once he knew I’d located him. Still, I didn’t necessarily have any other way to get in touch, so I let the woman connect me. It did no good. There was no answer.

Thanking her, I headed out to the back of the resort, figuring I’d walk off my frustration and hopefully clear my thoughts as I determined my next course of action. The pool and beach stretching out behind the building were intended for guests only, but it was easy enough to slip past security. I even took the opportunity, when briefly alone in a hall, to shape-shift into more appropriate clothing: a red bikini and sarong.

Outside, the heat hit me once again, and I paused, letting the sun soak into me. The time zone wasn’t far off from Seattle’s here, but even in early evening, the temperature was intense – which I loved. Beyond the pool and its bars, I could see a stretch of soft golden sand curving around blue, blue water. Still not as vivid as what I’d grown up with, but beautiful nonetheless. Lounge chairs and cabanas were scattered along the beach as sunseekers tried to grasp the last of the day’s rays.

I walked toward it, hoping to find a chair of my own and maybe a mai tai. If I wasn’t going to find Seth right away, I might as well –

There he was.

I came to an abrupt halt, nearly causing a young, giggling couple to walk into me and spill their drinks. I couldn’t believe it. God might work in mysterious ways, but Hell worked in efficient ones.

I murmured apologies to the couple and started toward Seth, stopping again after a few more steps. What would I do? What would I say? Seth had broken an engagement and fled from everyone he knew. Now, here I was, intruding on his escape. I’d run through a few mental scenarios but hadn’t decided on anything concrete. With a deep breath, I decided to just push forward and wing it.

I came up behind his chair, my shadow falling over him as I grew closer. He lay sprawled out in shorts and a Tootsie Pops T-shirt. A drink that looked suspiciously alcoholic sat by his side, and he was reading a book whose cover I couldn’t see from this angle. Once more, I halted, confused over how I felt.

“The perfume,” he said without warning. “Even out here, I can smell it. I’d know you anywhere. Tuberose and incense.”

I walked around, coming to stand off to his right side. I put my hands on my hips. “You don’t seem surprised to see me.”

He took off his sunglasses and studied me, one of those small, amused smiles on his face. “I am…and I’m not. I thought I did a good job of disappearing. But I knew if anyone did find me, it would be you.”

“Because I’m well connected?”

“Because you’re you.”

Searching for a clear spot of sand, I lowered myself to sit, but Seth scooted over on his lounge chair and indicated the space beside him. Hesitating only a moment, I sat next to where he lay, looking over him as our legs touched. He reached for his drink – a peach-colored monstrosity with enough sliced fruit for a salad in it – and took a sip.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“They call it el Chupacabra.”

“They do not.”

“They do. I think it’s got about fifty kinds of vodka in it. You’d like it.”

“I’m surprised you like it.”

“If you’re going to become a villain, you might as well go the whole way,” he replied, gesturing for a waiter to bring another drink.

“You’re not a villain,” I said softly.

“Yeah? Is that what they’re saying back home?”

I glanced away and watched small waves break on the shore. “I haven’t really talked to that many people. Mostly your family is worried.”

“You’ve neatly dodged the question.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I turned back to him.

He gave a small shrug. “What’s there to say? I broke her heart. I broke your heart. I don’t think someone like me is meant to be in relationships.”

“That’s ridiculous. You’re not the one who sucks people’s souls away.”

“Depends how literally you take the metaphor.”

“Seth, stop. Stop making a joke out of this. Why’d you do it?”

“You have to ask?” The new drink arrived remarkably fast, and he handed it to me. He was right. It did taste like it had fifty kinds of vodka. “I didn’t feel it. Not the way I should. You know that.”

I did, and I was surprised at the frank and honest nature of our conversation. We hadn’t had anything like this…well, not since we were dating. It had all been awkwardness and guarded feelings since things fell apart.

“But why now?”

It was his turn to look away, gazing off at the postcard view without seeing it. The sunlight hadn’t quite turned orange yet, but it was bringing out the copper in his hair and amber of his eyes. I stared at him, taking it all in, hardly noticing how long it took him to answer.

“Georgina,” he said at last, eyes still elsewhere. “When I ended things with us at Christmas…I did it so I wouldn’t hurt you someday. And, I suppose, so you didn’t hurt me. I went to Maddie for the wrong reasons then, but it didn’t seem so bad since I actually cared about her – I mean, aside from the fact you had to live with it in front of you every day. I never meant for that part to happen.”

“It’s okay,” I said automatically, hating the sadness in his voice. “I don’t – “

“Shh,” he said, holding up a hand. “I’ll actually talk for once, so you better let me before I lose the nerve.”

I smiled – though none of this was all that funny – and nodded.

“Anyway, I wish I’d chosen someone I didn’t like or respect. It would have made things simpler. But as time went on, I found myself growing closer to her – but not farther from you. My plan wasn’t working. I was only hurting the two of us more and more. Maybe I should have disappeared then.”

I bit my lip on any comments.

“The only one who wasn’t hurting was Maddie – because we were keeping her in the dark. And after you and me…well, you know. After we were together, I felt so horrible…so guilty…I hated myself for what I’d done to her. I wanted desperately for one person to come out of this happy. I wanted her to stay in blissful ignorance. I wanted to make it up to her.”

I’d deduced as much. And I also knew about the guilt…the guilt from the sin that had left a stain on his soul. Seth didn’t know about that part and probably shouldn’t ever.

“But whatever happiness I could give her wasn’t real,” he continued. “And I realized that the other day when we were at Erik’s, and I…hell, Georgina. I don’t really know what happened or even what I saw. There are only two things I’m sure about. One was that when Jerome came and said he needed me to come with him to help you, I did. If he’d said he had to take me to Hell itself, I would have.”

I closed my eyes. “Seth – “

“And when I was there and Erik sent me wherever he did, I felt…well, it was beyond anything I’d experienced. At first, I was so confused and disoriented. I didn’t get what they were saying about finding you. It seemed surreal. Then, it was the easiest thing in the world. I just looked for you, and there you were. In all that space and all that chaos, reaching you was like looking into myself. We were so close…it defied physics and every rule of nature I knew. It didn’t seem real that I could be together with anyone like that.

“And when it was over, it’s like I said – I wasn’t sure what I’d just been a part of. But I knew that I had never experienced any bond like that with any other woman. Maybe you’re the only one, maybe there’s another…but regardless, I didn’t have it with Maddie. She’s amazing. I do love her. But in that situation again? I would never find her. And I knew it wasn’t fair to lead her into a life without that connection. You and I…I don’t understand what’s between us, but I’d rather spend my life alone than with someone who isn’t you.”

He fell silent, and it was one of those weird times where I had no quick response. Instead, I linked my hand with his and stretched alongside him in the place he’d made on the chair, resting my head on his chest. He placed his hand on my shoulder, his fingers pressing into my skin to make sure I stayed. His heart beat against my ear.

“How’s this going to end?” I asked bleakly.

“I…don’t know, any more than I know how Cady and O’Neill are going to end.” He sighed. “I have a feeling I will be alone. In spite of everything that’s changed between us, nothing’s actually changed.”

“I…I don’t know.”

Again, my clever words were gone, but he was right. A lifetime seemed to have passed since we had split up, but all the same problems were still there. I might wax poetic about the universal connection of our souls, but it could never be matched physically, not so long as I refused him that. And mortality…always there was mortality beating down upon us. Seth wouldn’t live forever, and that knowledge – figuratively speaking – killed me.

Which reminded me of something. I lifted my head and propped myself onto him so that my hair hung around us as I looked down at his face. “When are you coming home?”

He brushed some of the hair away, tucking it behind my ear. It came loose again. “Who said I’m coming home?”

“Don’t joke. You have to.”

“I’m not joking. Do you think I can go back there? I can’t see Maddie…. I can’t stand to see what I’ve done to her.”

“You don’t have to see her,” I said. “Don’t go to the store. People break up all the time and don’t have to move.”

Seth shook his head. “Yeah, but with my luck, we’d still run into each other. At a movie. A restaurant. Something. I’m a coward, Georgina. I don’t want to see her…not after…well, you didn’t see her face when I told her.”

“I saw her face afterward,” I said. “It was probably close enough. I can’t believe you’re seriously saying you’d never come back to Seattle just to avoid her.”

“She’s not the only one I’d be avoiding.” Again, he tried to tuck the unruly hair back. When he failed again, he simply slid his hand down my arm, tracing its curves with his fingertips. “I don’t think I can handle seeing you either. Even being with you now…it’s like the best thing in the world and the worst. Seeing you all the time would just drive home how we can’t be together – and we would see each other all the time, you know. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that fate doesn’t let you and me stay apart for long.”

Seth’s words were such an odd contradiction. On one side, they were all filled with love and romantic sentiment about how agonizing his life was without me. Yet…there was more than just that. There was a defeatist attitude throughout it all, one I’d never seen in him before. Somewhere in all of this, Seth had gained a new bitterness, and I had the uneasy thought that if I could see his soul like Hugh could, the stain of sin would be even darker than before. I made one more attempt.

“Pull me out of the equation. You have to go back for your family. They need you. Andrea’s sick.”

“Everyone gets sick. That’s not a convincing argument.”

“No…you don’t understand. They didn’t tell you. She doesn’t have the flu…she’s got cancer.”

That got a reaction. His expression went rigid. “No, she doesn’t.”

“She does. Brandy told me.”

“She must have been confused,” he said adamantly. “They would have told me.”

“I don’t think she’d mistake ‘cold’ for ‘ovarian cancer.’ And do you think she’d make something like that up?”

He considered a moment. “No, no, she wouldn’t. But why didn’t they say anything?”

“I guess they didn’t tell anyone so they could find out more. Don’t you see?” I leaned closer, hoping to drive home my plea. “They need you. You have to go home for them.”

For a moment, I thought I had him, and then he slowly shook his head. “They’ll be fine without me. And you said yourself they’re waiting to find out more. It might not be that bad.”

“Seth! It’s cancer. It’s going to be some level of bad, regardless. How can you abandon them?”

“Damn it,” he said, about as angry as I ever saw him – which always came off pretty mild. “I don’t need a moral angel on my shoulder right now. Just let me…just let me be selfish for once. I want to just be away from it all. I want to hide from my problems for once, instead of always being the responsible one. If you’re just here to torment me with what can or can’t be, then you should just…you should just go. Let me hide out and be free. Let me write the new series and forget about everything else.”

It was almost a mirror of what I’d done so long ago. Only, instead of trying to forget my problems, I made everyone forget me. Sometimes, I kind of wished I added that last part to the bargain. Consequently, I could understand where he was coming from. I could understand that longing to just make all the bad things disappear. I’d wanted it too. I’d made it happen. The thing was, I’d expected more from him than from me. Sensing my hesitation, he cupped my face between his hands and drew me down into a small kiss. I drew back and stared in astonishment.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I might ultimately be trying to avoid you, but if I’ve got you now, I might as well enjoy it for the moment.” There was a wicked gleam in his eyes, one I couldn’t help but smile at, despite all the misgivings within me.

“You’re a hypocrite,” I said.

“An opportunist,” he countered. “What are you really doing here, Georgina? What do you want?”

I lowered my gaze. I didn’t know. I didn’t know why I was here. I’d come to make sure he was okay…but then what? I was always going back and forth. I loved him. I had to forget him. Back and forth.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “That’s the best I’ve got.”

And with no more deliberation, I kissed him again, longer this time, surprised at how easy it was to fall back into the kinds of kisses we used to do – the ones that just pushed the envelope of when I started to take his energy. He seemed like he was ready to go further, so I was the one who stopped him and returned to lying against him as we watched the sun sink down and paint the sky with brilliant colors. He gave no protest, seeming content just to have me close.

We ate dinner inside one of the resort’s restaurants, my lack of packing not being a problem with shape-shifting. I pulled out a sexy v-cut evening dress whose violet shade reminded me of our first meeting. And as we talked and drank over dinner, our conversation slipped into the funny, comfortable manner we’d always shared. With Maddie removed from the equation, it was exactly as he’d said: so much had changed yet not changed. The rapport, the connection…it all burned between us – as did the sexual tension while we studied each other intently through the effortless conversation. He came alive more than I’d seen him in a while, but whether that was from the drinks or his freedom, I couldn’t say.

Though my heart sang at finally being with him again, I was still battered with a million doubts. He’d told me to push them aside, but it was hard. Maddie. His underlying pessimism. His desire for escape. His family. My own selfishness.

But when we finished dinner, all such worries fled. As soon as we were back in his room – a wide and spacious suite that looked out to the now-dark water – we were all over each other. The longing that had built up between us exploded. His hands undid the zipper of my dress, peeling it from my body. We fell onto the bed, and I tore at his shorts, reason and responsibility nonexistent. His hands ran the length of my body, down the sides of my hips while his mouth moved from my collarbone to the spot between my breasts and then finally onto one of the breasts and its hardened nipple.

I was prying off his pants when I felt the glow of life energy start to creep into me. For a few moments, I was able to ignore its implications. I just wanted him. I wanted to feel what I’d felt months ago when his body had been in mine and I’d had that sense of perfect union. The life energy was an aphrodisiac, enhancing the desire my physical body felt.

Maybe it was a kneejerk reaction from the days of dating, but once more, I was the one who had to stop it all. I put some distance between us, though we were still intertwined.

“Okay,” I said, my heart pounding in my chest. “We’re about to cross the line.”

There was lust in Seth’s eyes. Lust and love and that same burning need I had to reach ultimate completion. “We crossed it a little, didn’t we?” he asked breathlessly. “I felt it.”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “Not much.” Not much is too much.

He frowned a little, his hand still running over my leg. So, so dangerous. A little more and we would teeter over the edge again.

“I’ve felt it before,” he said. “When you started to take some of me. Just a vague sense, but it was there. Somehow…somehow, it didn’t seem quite as bad this time.”

He was right, and that was because of that slight darkening on his soul. Sure, he was nowhere near as bad as a lot of Hell-bound people, but even that slight mark made a difference. I could feel it. Before, he’d been pristine and pure, all sparking silver and undiluted life. Most of it was still there…save that slight shadow, a shadow that I suspected was increasing the more he decided to turn his back on the people in his life. And the darker a soul was, the less of it I took.

“You’re right.” I didn’t bother getting into the technicalities. “But it’d still be bad.”

“Too bad to risk just one time?”

An old argument. “What happened to you giving me up?”

“I will if I have to. I was ready to. But that was before you came here…you still haven’t told me why, what you want. I’d do it again. I’d be together again, but no more physical boundaries.” He cut off my protests. “I know, I know the risks. And I know – as should you – that what’s between us is about more than sex. But that was still a thorn, no matter how much we knew it shouldn’t be. I don’t want anything like that happening again. I’ll take the risk. It’s my choice.”

“I – I don’t know. I just don’t…”

“Well, that’s better than ‘I can’t.’” He chuckled. He moved closer, his lips just brushing mine. “And if you decide no, then that’s how it’ll be. But maybe…maybe just this once we could…maybe just once you could give in….”

I closed my eyes as his lips pressed against mine once more, harder this time, and our bodies moved back together. Again, he was right. I could almost give in this time. I’d been through too much recently, so much emotional and spiritual upheaval. Being with him felt like the most natural thing in the world right now…but my warning alarms were still going off. If I shortened his life with a dark soul, he’d be that much closer to Hell.

“No,” I said at last. It was growing more difficult to keep pulling back. “I still can’t. Not yet. I’m not saying never…I just. I’m so confused. I’m sorry.”

He looked disappointed, but to my relief, he didn’t push the issue again. I might not have been able to resist if he did. “But you’ll stay? You’ll stay the night with me at least?”

I nodded. “I can stay for three days.”

“Three days. That’s perfect. I can handle that. Three more days to think about it all. If we can stay together…then we will. If we can’t, then I’ll be alone until there’s another Georgina.” His wry tone indicated his doubts about that. “For now, this is enough.”

We lounged in each other’s arms naked after that, miraculously managing to keep things from escalating. Of course, it was a skill we’d perfected while dating, so we fell into it naturally – though also reluctantly. We stayed up talking for a long time, as though we hadn’t seen each other for years and had a lifetime to catch up on. Which really wasn’t that far from the truth.

At last, he slept, but I was restless. I watched his peaceful breathing in the darkness, his sleep heavy from the drinks. His skin was warm against mine, and I felt safer than I had in a while.

Three days. We’d have these three days, and for a little longer, I could pretend he was mine again, just like he used to be. If I chose, I could even make this permanent. I’d told him I’d think about it. The one problem with it all was that things weren’t like they used to be. The dream replayed in my head, the dream that might have been a lie. Seth had been the man in the dream, the one I could have been with if what the Oneroi had showed me was true. But was this Seth lying in my arms the man in the dream? The one I’d dreamed of had been infinitely kind and good – the one I’d fallen in love with. The real Seth had changed – gradually, yes…but the change was there.

It was wrong of me to judge, seeing as part of the change over the last year had been a result of me in his life. Yet, once more, that selfish part inside me thought he should have resisted. I’d fallen for Seth because of his moral character, something that always attracted me to a man. Ironic and possibly hypocritical for a servant of Hell. I still loved Seth, still felt that connection, but things were off now. This bitterness, this attitude that made him want to lock himself away in easy, selfish retreat was not what I’d expected of him. I’d expected more.

I didn’t want to lose him. I wanted these last few days with him. I wanted forever with him, but if I stayed, I’d be furthering this attitude I hated. I’d encourage the darkness to build within him. I didn’t want to see it. And as much as I loved him and yearned to cling to a few more moments with him, I realized staying with this Seth who disappointed me so much was a bad idea. Seth had said he’d rather be alone than be with the wrong woman. I’d rather be apart from him than see him like this. I wanted my memories of him to stay pure.

And so, though it broke my heart, I untangled myself from him. In his heavy sleep, he didn’t stir. Again, the hypocrisy wasn’t lost on me. I’d tried so many times to coax him into one drink, and now I looked down on him for using cocktails as a way to dull the pain. How stupid, I thought, that his darkened soul made it easier for us to finally be together…and yet, for my heart, it made it impossible.

I shape-shifted into jeans and a light tank top and found some hotel stationery. On it, I scrawled:

Seth,

I’m sorry – but I have to leave. I told you I’d consider everything, but I was wrong. I love you too much to stay.

Cryptic much? A meager way to express all those feelings, but somehow, I suspected he’d understand. He knew me. I left it on the bedside table and then watched him for a few moments, admiring the man I loved and always would. Finally, my eyes wet, I turned away and left the room to catch a taxi to the airport.

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