Succubus Shadows Chapter 5

I stared at him, and the world stood still for a moment.“Wait…Seth was meeting Simone there?”

Roman shook his head.“I wouldn’t say that exactly.

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It was more like she sought him out. He looked like he’d been working there for a while when she showed up.”

“And then?” My voice was very small.

“Then, she walked over to him and shyly introduced herself as a fan, saying she recognized him from his website. Picture perfect demure coquette.”

“And then?”

“She said she wished she had a book with her to sign and asked if he’d sign a piece of paper instead. He said he would, and then she sat down, all apologetic for bothering him. She said she had a couple questions and hoped he wouldn’t mind if she stayed for a few moments.”

I noticed then that I was clenching my fists. With a deep breath, I released them. “Seth wouldn’t strike up a conversation with a stranger like that. Not without being horribly uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” Roman agreed. “He definitely had some of that social awkwardness.” There was a wry note in Roman’s voice that I didn’t like. The two men had once been rivals for my affection, and apparently, Roman was still holding on to some bitterness – and a feeling of superiority. Roman could be quite charismatic when he wanted. “But she did a pretty good job at playing just as shy and nervous. I think it made him feel better.”

“So she did sit down?”

“Yup…and stayed for about a half-hour.”

“What?” I exclaimed. My volume made Godiva jerk her head up from a nap. “Did she try to seduce him?”

Roman’s expression turned considering. “Not in the usual way. I mean, she wasn’t as boring as usual. But she put him at ease enough that he relaxed and seemed to like talking to her. She wasn’t overtly sexual, and he didn’t look like he wanted to jump her. It was just…I don’t know. A nice conversation. Although, it had a few of those annoying facts she likes to drop.” He paused. “Oh, and she went brunette.”

That bothered me more than it probably should have. “But he sent her away, right?”

“No, Maddie showed up, and he left with her – after telling Simone it was nice to meet her.”

Oh, irony. Never, never would I have imagined I’d be so relieved to have Maddie show up and take Seth home. I also never thought I’d be glad his devotion to her would keep him from falling prey to another woman’s charms.

I took a step toward Roman, my fists clenching again. I didn’t blame him as messenger; I was simply driven by my own fury.

“What the hell?” I demanded. “What fucking game is she playing?”

He sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe no game at all. She likes coffee. I’ve certainly seen her buy it before. She could have ended up there by coincidence and thought he looked like a good catch. God only knows why.”

I ignored the barb. “Oh, come on, Roman. You’re not that stupid. Do you honestly think that in a city like Seattle, out of all the men here, it’s a coincidence that she shows up and starts hitting on my ex? You know as well as I do that there aren’t many coincidences in our world.”

“True,” he admitted, setting the remnants of his dinner on the coffee table. The cats went for it.

“Will you stop doing that?” I demanded. “They’re not supposed to be eating that kind of stuff.”

“Don’t take your bitchy attitude out on me.” But he stood up and took the plate to the kitchen. When he returned, he crossed his arms over his chest and stood in front of me. “Look, you’re right to a certain extent about coincidences. It is weird that she would hit on Seth. But think about this too: don’t you think there are a few things around here a little more important than your ex-boyfriend? Jerome’s theory makes the most sense, you know. Hell let him keep his job, but that doesn’t mean they’re letting the whole incident go. They’re the ultimate grudge-holders. They’d want to assess the situation. That’s why she’s here.”

“Except that she’s not assessing anything! Unless you consider my friends’ Pictionary skills.”

“You should have seen them play Jenga.”

“This isn’t a joke. I need to figure out what her game is. You have to take me with you when you spy on her again.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I think that’s a terrible idea.”

“I can go invisible.”

“She’ll still sense you.”

“You can hide my signature. You told me before that you could. Was that a lie?”

Roman grimaced. Just before things had literally blown up between us, he’d asked me to run away with him, promising he could conceal me from the greater immortals.

“I can,” he admitted. “But I just think you’re asking for trouble.”

“What am I risking?”

“A lot. Whether it’s Seth or Jerome, there’s obviously something going on. Get tangled up in that, and you could be risking your life. I won’t let that happen to you.”

“Since when do you care what happens to me?” I asked incredulously.

“Since you became my ticket to rent-free living.”

And with that, he turned invisible, hiding his signature as well.

“Coward!” I cried. My only answer was the front door opening and then shutting. He was lost to me, and I realized I’d again missed my chance to bring up my weird encounters from these last couple days.

I tossed and turned again that night, but it had nothing to do with my fear of walking off the balcony or into Puget Sound. I was filled with rage, both at Simone for making the moves on Seth and at Roman for abandoning me. When I woke up in the morning, I took comfort in knowing I didn’t need Roman to confront Simone. I could do that on my own.

Of course, there were a few complications there, the first being I didn’t know where Simone was. Her hotel was probably the logical place to start, though most succubi – even a bland one like her – wouldn’t spend a lot of time hanging out there.

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Well, unless she had company – and I didn’t really want to walk into anything like that. And anyway, I had one tiny commitment to attend to before I could go bitch-hunting.

Maddie.

I’d regretted my decision to go shopping with her the moment the words had left my mouth. Yet, somehow, I’d totally blocked out those feelings yesterday when I’d been sitting with Seth. A brief thought about the wedding had flitted through my mind…and then it had been gone. I’d spent the rest of the time laughing and talking with him as though there was no Maddie in the world. But as I headed over to the bookstore, where she and I had agreed to meet, I had to accept reality once more. Seth was no longer mine.

He also wasn’t Simone’s. But I’d deal with that later.

Maddie was waiting for me downstairs, but I used the excuse of needing coffee before we left, in order to dash up to the caf?¦. I wanted to see if Simone was lurking. No matter her shape, I’d know if she was there. Yet, as I casually waited in line for my white chocolate mocha, I sensed nothing immortal. Seth was there, engrossed in his work, and never even saw me. Apparently, his muse was still going strong.

I let him be and joined Maddie downstairs again. She had a list of eight store names and addresses. Most were dress shops, and I was skeptical that we could make them all before we were due into work. She was more optimistic, but then, that was typical of her.

“No point in worrying right now,” she said. “We’ll just do them one at a time and see where that gets us. Besides, the last few are bakeries, and we wouldn’t want to eat a bunch of cake before trying on dresses.”

“Speak for yourself,” I said, sliding into her passenger seat. “I’m not trying anything on.”

She gave me a wry smile. “Aren’t you? You’re my bridesmaid, remember? We talked about it at the party.”

“No,” I said swiftly. “I said and did all sorts of crazy stuff that night, but I never agreed to it. That I do remember.”

Maddie’s expression was still light, but I thought I heard a little hurt in her voice when she spoke next. “What’s the big deal? Why don’t you want to be one? You know I’d never dress you in anything horrible.”

Why? I pondered the answer as she pulled into traffic. Because I’m in love with your future husband. I could hardly tell her that, of course. As it was, I could see my continuing silence was making her feel worse. She was reading it as a slight to our friendship.

“I just…I just don’t like all the, uh, fanfare that goes with weddings. There’s so much planning and stressing about little details. I’d rather just sit back in the audience and watch you go down the aisle.” Well, actually, that was one of the last things I wanted to do.

“Really?” Maddie frowned, but thankfully, it was more out of surprise than disappointment. “You’re always so good at planning and little details. I thought you were into that.”

That was a fair point. It was why I made such a good manager. “Yeah, kind of…but I mean, at the receptions, drunk guys always hit on the bridesmaids, you know? They think we’re desperate because we’re the ones not getting married.” Also not entirely far from the truth in my case.

Maddie’s smile returned. “Those are some pretty lame excuses.”

They were indeed, but she said nothing more as we drove.

After Maddie’s initial failure with picking flattering wedding dresses, she now threw her faith completely into me to lead her to fashion success. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, and I found myself slipping into style-advisor role pretty easily. In fact, if I was able to preoccupy myself with the objective parts of this process – flattering fit, color, etc. – it was easy to block out the big picture of her and Seth.

The saleswomen working at the stores soon learned who was in charge here and backed off with their recommendations, simply fetching the dresses I indictated. I studied each one Maddie tried on, keeping my standards high. With so many stores to choose from, we could afford to be picky.

“That one’s good,” I said at our third store. It was corseted, narrowing her waist, and had a skirt that didn’t flare. Those puffy ones always made the hips look bigger, though no one ever seemed to realize that. You had to be tall and thin to get away with that, not short and buxom like Maddie.

She admired herself in the mirror, a look of pleasant surprise on her face. She was still drawn to ones that I didn’t think were good choices, and this was the first of my picks that she really liked. The eager saleswoman jotted down the style number, and then Maddie started to turn around and try on the rest waiting in her dressing room. As she did, a dress on a mannequin caught her eye.

“Oh, Georgina, I know what you said, but you have to try that on,” Maddie begged.

I followed her gaze. The dress was slinky and sexy, floor-length violet charmeuse with straps that tied around the neck. You were wearing that color the first time we met.

I averted my eyes. “Not ugly enough to be a bridesmaid dress.”

“It’d look great on you. Everything looks great on you,” she added with a shake of her head. “Besides, you could wear that to other things. Parties and stuff.”

It was true. It didn’t scream bridesmaid. Not taffeta or bright orange. Before I could protest further, the saleswoman had already fetched one from the rack, guessing my size with that uncanny ability her kind had.

So, reluctantly, I tried the dress on while Maddie went to her next option. The size wasn’t perfect, but a little shape-shifting neatened it up where it needed to be. Maddie was right. It did look good on me, and when I stepped out, she took it as a done deal that I’d buy it – no, she offered to buy it – and would be in her wedding. The saleswoman, seeing an opportunity, and possibly getting back at me for my tyrannical attitude, had “helpfully” fetched two more dresses for me to try while I waited for Maddie. Maddie claimed she couldn’t stand the thought of me waiting around with nothing to do, so I reluctantly took them into the dressing room. They too looked good, but not as good as the violet.

I was returning them to the saleswoman when my eye caught something. It was a bridal dress. It was made of ivory duchess satin, the fabric wrapping around the waist and halter top. The skirt was draped, pulled into little tiers. I stared. It would have been a disaster on Maddie, but on me…

“Want to try it?” asked the saleswoman slyly. Something told me that bridesmaids covertly trying on brides’ dresses wasn’t a rare phenomenon around here. The desperate and mournful not-getting-married attitude in action.

Before I knew it, I was back in the dressing room, wearing the ivory dress. You were wearing that color the first time we met. Seth had been wrong about that and corrected himself, but for some reason, the words came to me yet again. And the dress looked great. Really great. I wasn’t overly tall but was slim enough that it didn’t matter – and I filled out the top beautifully. I stared at myself in a way I hadn’t with the other dresses, trying to imagine myself as a bride. There was something about brides and weddings that instinctively spoke to so many women, and I shared the impulse as well, jaded succubus or no. The grim statistics didn’t matter: the divorce rates, the infidelity I’d witnessed so often…

Yes, there was something magical about brides, an image fixed into the collective subconscious. I could see myself with flowers in my hands and a veil on my head. There’d be well-wishers and joy, the giddy faith and hope of a beautiful life together. I’d been a bride once, so long ago. I’d had those dreams, and they’d blown away.

I sighed and took the dress off, afraid I might start crying. There would be no wedding for me. No bridal hopes. Not with Seth, not with anyone. Those things were lost to me forever. There was only an eternity alone, no lifelong lovers, only those I shared a night with….

Unsurprisingly, I was kind of depressed for the rest of the day.

Maddie bought the violet dress for me, and I was too glum to protest – which she read as acceptance of my bridesmaid fate. We made it through the rest of our dress stops but didn’t get to the bakeries. By the end of it all, we had four candidates for her dress, which I regarded as good progress.

My mood didn’t abate at work. I holed up in my office as much as I could, seeking solitude and my own dark thoughts. When I finally made it home after that eternity-long day, I found the condo empty and was astonished at how much that hurt me. I wished with all my heart that Roman was around, and it wasn’t even to talk about Simone or other immortal mysteries. I just wanted his company. I just wanted to talk to him and not be alone. He was an infuriating part of my life, but he was also turning into a fixed infuriating part of my life. With a gloomy eternity ahead, that meant something.

I knew better than to wait up for him…but found myself doing it anyway. I lounged on the couch with Grey Goose and the cats, taking some small sweetness from those warm, furry creatures that loved me. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was on, which didn’t cheer me up any. Like the masochist I was, I watched it anyway.

At least, I thought I was. Because suddenly, the loud shriek of a car horn blasted into my ears. I blinked and jerked my head around. I wasn’t on the couch. There were no cats, no vodka. I sat on the railing of my balcony, precariously positioned. The horn had come from below, on the street. One car had nearly swiped another, and the near-victim had honked in his outrage.

I didn’t exactly remember the trip out here. I did, however, remember the force that had drawn me – largely because it was still there. The light and the music – that feeling of comfort and rightness that was so hard to articulate hovered before me, off in the air. It was like a tunnel. No, it was like an embrace, arms waiting to welcome me home.

Come here, come here. Everything will be all right. You are safe. You are loved.

In spite of myself, one of my legs shifted on the railing. How easy would it be to step over, to walk into that sweet comfort? Would I fall? Would I simply hit the hard sidewalk below? It wouldn’t kill me if I did. But maybe I wouldn’t fall. Maybe I’d step into that light, into the bliss that could block out the pain that always seemed to surround me lately….

“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

The driver that had nearly been hit had gotten out of his car and was yelling at the other. That driver got out and returned the insults, and a loud tirade began. One of my neighbors on the floor below opened his patio and shouted for them all to shut up.

The argument, that jarring noise, brought me back to myself. Once more, the siren song faded away, and for the first time, I almost felt…regret. Carefully, I climbed off the rail and back to the solidity of the balcony. A fall might not kill me, but good God, it would hurt.

I walked back into the condo, finding everything exactly as I’d left it. Even the cats hadn’t moved, though they looked up at my arrival. I sat between them, absentmindedly petting Aubrey. I was scared again, scared and eerily attracted to what had just happened – and that scared me more.

Despite the vodka tonight, my last encounter had proven alcohol wasn’t to blame. No connection. Yet…it occurred to me there had been a common link all three times. My mood. Each time, I’d been down…sad about my lot in life, seeking reassurance that wasn’t to be found. And that’s when this phenomenon would happen, offering a solution and the comfort I thought was beyond me.

That was bad news for me. Because if this thing was drawn to woe and unhappiness, I had plenty of it to go around.

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