I awoke to the smell of eggs and bacon.For a moment, I had the strangest sense of d?¦j?¤ vu.When Seth and I were first getting to know each other, I’d crashed at his place after too much to drink.
When I had woken up, I’d discovered a full breakfast spread in his kitchen.
A few moments later, reality sunk in. There was no desk or bulletin board of book notes, no teddy bear in a University of Chicago shirt. It was my own dresser that looked back at me, my own tangled pale blue sheets wrapped around my legs.
With a sigh, I clambered out of bed and walked out to the kitchen, wondering what was going on. To my astonishment, it was Roman playing chef at my stove, both cats sitting at his feet – no doubt hoping for a bit of dropped bacon.
“You cook?” I asked, pouring a cup of coffee.
“I cook all the time. You just don’t notice.”
“I notice you heating up a lot of frozen food. What’s all this?”
He shrugged. “I’m starving. You don’t get a lot of time to eat when you’re on stalking duty.”
I eyed the eggs, bacon, and pancakes. “Well, I think you’ll be good to go for the rest of the day. Maybe the next two days. You sure did make a lot,” I added hopefully.
“No need to be coy,” he said, trying to hide a smile. “You can have some.”
This was the best news I’d heard all day. Of course, I’d only been up for five minutes. Then, last night’s events came slamming into me. “Oh, shit.”
Roman glanced up from where he was flipping a pancake. “Hmm?”
“A funny thing happened last night….” I frowned. “Well, not so funny…”
I explained that mystery force’s reappearance last night, as well as my unexpected swim from the other day. Roman listened quietly, the earlier levity rapidly disappearing from his face.
When I finished, he dumped his skillet of eggs into a bowl so hard that the bowl shattered. I took an uneasy step back. “Son of a bitch,” he growled.
“Whoa, hey,” I said. An angry nephilim was nothing I wanted around. “That’s part of a matched set.”
He glared at me, but I knew the anger wasn’t toward me, exactly. “Three times, Georgina. This has happened three fucking times, and I wasn’t around.”
“Why should you be?” I asked in surprise. My surprise then took an odd turn into outrage. “You aren’t my keeper.”
“No, but some entity is invading my home.” I decided not to point out that it was my home. “I should be dealing with that, not chasing some boring succubus for Jerome.”
“Ask, and ye shall receive,” a familiar voice suddenly said. Jerome’s aura washed over us as he materialized by the kitchen table.
“About time,” snapped Roman, that dark look still on his face. “I’ve been waiting forever for you to show up.”
Jerome arched an eyebrow and lit a cigarette. “Forever, huh? It hasn’t even been a week.”
“Feels like it,” said Roman. He handed me a plate of food, and I sat quietly at the table, deciding I should wait for this status report to unfold before delivering my latest problems to Jerome. “You guys should add following Simone to your list of punishments for the eternally damned.”
Jerome smiled and flicked his ashes into a vase of gerbera daisies on my table. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but at least it wasn’t on my floor. “I take it you’ve seen no noteworthy activities? Mei reported the same thing.”
Roman sat down beside me with his own food, setting the plate down with more force than he needed. I winced, but it didn’t break. “She’s done nothing but shop and take victims. Oh, and hit on Mortensen.”
Both of Jerome’s eyebrows rose this time. “Seth Mortensen?”
I started to ask how many Mortensens he knew, but Roman’s next words cut me off. “Yeah, she’s shown up a couple times, attempting some sort of lame seduction.”
My anger started to kindle again and then –
“Wait. A couple times?” I exclaimed. “More than the coffee shop?”
Roman looked at me, a brief glint of apology showing through his angry expression. “Yeah, I didn’t have a chance to tell you. She came to the bookstore while you were out with Maddie yesterday. Very nicely timed with your absence.”
I slammed my fork down on my plate. Really, it was a wonder I had any dishes left. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I kind of didn’t have the chance, seeing as we had bigger problems!”
Jerome had stiffened when Roman mentioned Simone attempting to seduce Seth. The reaction was weird, like he’d been caught by surprise. That was rare for a demon, rarer still for one to show it. Several moments later, he regained his composure, turning his attention to Roman’s comment. “Bigger problems?”
“Georgina’s being stalked,” declared Roman.
“Georgina’s always being stalked.” Jerome sighed. “What is it this time?”
He kept his features neutral, but as we explained the situation, I saw something spark in his eyes…some sort of interest. At the very least, speculation.
Silence fell when Roman and I finished our story. I glanced at him, both of us waiting for my overlord to offer some sort of explanation.
“Your job with Simone is done,” Jerome said at last.
“Thank God,” said Roman.
“You’re going to follow Georgie instead.”
“What?” Roman and I exclaimed in unison.
“Same deal,” added Jerome. “Invisible, no signature. Except when you’re here, of course. Most know you two are roommates. It’d be odd if you disappeared off the face of the earth.”
The last couple times that siren song had shown up, I’d desperately wanted Roman. I should have been glad to have him now, which is why the outrage that followed next was completely irrational.
“But he needs to follow Simone!”
“Oh?” asked Jerome. “Pray tell why? She’s made no contact with anyone from Hell. Either she is here for innocent reasons, or she’s too good at hiding her reports.”
“But…but…she’s following Seth. We need to figure out why!”
“I don’t think it takes a genius to deduce why,” said Jerome dryly.
“We have to stop her, though.”
The demon snorted. “Georgina, do you have any idea how much I don’t care about your ex-boyfriend? There’s more in this universe than your absurd love life – or lack of one.” I flinched. “Especially since he’s sleeping with someone else now. If he’s so in love with her now, Simone shouldn’t be an issue. And don’t glare at me like that,” he added. “You already screwed his soul over when you fucked him last spring. Simone won’t make any difference.”
I gritted my teeth. “I still don’t think – “
“No.” Jerome’s voice was hard, and he was using that tone you didn’t argue with. He turned his attention to Roman. “You’re done with Simone. You’re with Georgie now. Understood?”
Roman nodded, not sharing my outrage. “Understood. Do you know what this is? What’s happening to Georgina?”
“I’ve got a few ideas,” Jerome growled. And like that, he vanished.
“Son of a bitch,” I said.
Roman swallowed a bite of egg and looked remarkably relaxed, compared to his earlier state. “Was that a general statement of frustration or a slander on Jerome?”
“Both. Why do you look so pleased all of a sudden? You were ready to go on a rampage earlier.”
“Because I’m done with Simone. And I get to chase better prey now.”
“And because you don’t care about Seth at all.”
I stared at my food without really seeing it. My appetite was gone. “I need to see him. I need to see her and find out if she’s following him.”
“No good can come of that,” warned Roman.
I didn’t answer. My mood had crashed. I was grateful for Roman’s protection now, but in a lot of ways…well, I wanted to put Seth before myself. I wanted to defend him from…what? Having his life shortened by a succubus? Having his soul further darkened? Or were my motives more selfish…did I just not want him to sleep with another woman? Accepting him and Maddie was hard enough…and yet, if Simone did woo him, would that break up the impending marriage? No, I decided, Seth would stay true to Maddie. He wouldn’t cheat on her. Wouldn’t he? a nasty voice in my head asked. He cheated with you….
“Damn it. I wish you wouldn’t look like that.”
I glanced up at Roman. “Huh?”
“That pathetic look on your face is killing me.” He turned his gaze downward, moving eggs around his plate. With a sigh, he looked back up. “I know where Seth will be today. But I don’t know if Simone will be there.”
My eyes widened. “Where?”
Roman hesitated only a moment later. “The art museum. He mentioned it to Maddie yesterday…. Some exhibit he wanted to see that she doesn’t. He was going to swing by there today. I’m not sure of the time, but Simone might have overheard. If so, it’d be the perfect time.”
I stood up, and my appearance instantly shifted, ready to go. Hair styled long and wavy. Jeans and a T-shirt. Makeup perfect. “Well, let’s go. We need to stake the place out.”
“Whoa there, speedy. Some of us can’t get ready that fast. And some of us aren’t done eating.”
I sat back down, not bothering to hide my impatience. He ate on, pointedly ignoring me and chewing every bite with care. A thought popped up. “Can you hide my signature? I’ll go invisible. Lure her in.”
Roman shook his head in exasperation. “I was hoping you wouldn’t think of that.”
I expected him to refuse me, but to my surprise, he did indeed hide my immortal signature when we finally set out to the museum. After shifting invisible, I was as incognito as he was by my side.
It was a pretty day to be out in downtown Seattle. The morning clouds had burned off, and the sun had nothing to hold it back. It was deceptive, though. The sky was a clear radiant blue, but fall’s chill was starting to finally take its grip. So while the weather looked gorgeous through windows, a coat was required once outside.
The Seattle Art Museum – or, as it was affectionately know by locals, SAM – was massive, and its regular collection held exhibits from every place and period imaginable. Roman had told me the exhibit Seth wanted to see was a special one, only in town for a few weeks. It was a display of Late Antiquity jewelry, and I would have wagered good money that Seth was there to do research for Cady and O’Neill.
But when we arrived, there was no sign of Seth. Plenty of tourists – even on a weekday – filled the place, wandering aimlessly and pausing to study or read about the pieces. This period of time was near and dear to me, and I couldn’t help feeling a little uneasy. It was the era I’d grown up in, the era I’d spent my mortal days in. Seeing those items – rings, bracelets, and necklaces – was surreal. Many were from the Mediterranean region of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, when I thought about my past, it would make my heart burn. Other times, I felt removed, like I was watching a movie about someone else’s life.
I’d been studying each piece in detail, intrigued at how some had been polished to brightness and others were corroded with time. A gentle nudge at my shoulder made me look up. I saw no one near me and realized it had been Roman. Turning around, I surveyed the gallery and found what – or rather who – he’d spotted. Seth stood on the opposite side of the room, face thoughtful and inquisitive as he studied one of the cases. A notebook and pen were in his hands. He’d come for research, as I suspected.
I studied him with equal fascination. As far as I was concerned, he was as rare and precious to me as any of the jewelry surrounding us. Shit, I thought. I was an idiot if I thought I was over him. Just standing there in the same room, I felt more drawn to him than ever.
I backed up to a wall near me, staying out of the way of patrons and simply keeping an eye on Seth, wondering if Simone would show her traitorous face. After a half-hour went by, my impatience grew. It was stupid, I knew. Seth would likely be here all afternoon, and she might arrive later. But…suddenly, talking to him seemed more important. I knew it was foolish, knew it was wrong…but, well, I’d done more idiotic things in the past.
I stepped out of the gallery and into a stairwell that was momentarily empty. It only took a second to go visible again. In my ear, I heard Roman’s voice hiss, “Are you crazy?”
“Keep my signature hidden,” I snapped back. “If she shows, we’ll sense her before she sees me.”
An elderly couple came down the stairs just as I finished my words, giving me an odd look. I smiled winningly and held the door open for them. They scurried through.
Seth was at a display of Byzantine diadems when I touched his arm. He flinched and turned around, though his shock immediately turned to pleasure when he saw me. Shit, I thought again. Far better if he’d looked dismayed.
“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re planning the perfect heist for Cady and O’Neill.”
He smiled. “They’re the good guys.”
“They’ve been known to break the law,” I pointed out.
“I like to think of it as bending the law. What are you doing here?”
I gestured around. “Revisiting my youth – or what’s left of it. The sands of time bury most things, but a few remain.”
“I never thought of that,” said Seth, clearly intrigued. “This is your era. I should have been coming to you for research.”
A vision of us having private study sessions came to mind. I immediately squashed it. “Better visual aids here. Anything catch your eye?”
He pointed at the case of diadems beside him. “I like these. It’s a shame we don’t wear stuff like this anymore.”
I followed his gaze. “Not enough bling in the hair nowadays?”
He gave me one of those half-smiles. “No. There’s just…I don’t know. There’s a beauty and skill we don’t use. Look at that.” He gestured toward one diadem, meant to resemble a crown of gold coins. Little strings of small gold circles hung down, draping through the hair. “Look at the imperfections. That was handmade, each one of those.”
“Some would call that flawed.” I loved it when Seth got caught up in these philosophical musings.
“That’s what makes it great. And anyway, I kind of like the idea of adorning women in crowns and jewels. Call me sexist, but I think the fair sex should be worshipped.” He paused. “And perfectly entitled to all the rights and opportunities of men.”
I laughed and stepped away so that others could approach the case. “I think you’re romantic, not sexist.” A troubling thought came to me, recalling how Maddie had admired pearl tiaras and headbands at the bridal stores yesterday. Modern-day diadems. Would Seth like that?
“Call it what you want,” he said, “but I just think our civilization has declined when scrunchies have become the prevalent form of hair ornamentation.”
We wandered around the exhibits after that, commenting on and analyzing them. I tried not to overthink the situation. I didn’t delude myself about whether we could be friends. I didn’t wallow in guilt over carrying a torch. I just tried to enjoy the moment. During none of our time together did I feel Simone. Since Roman’s senses were stronger, I had to assume he hadn’t either. I also suspected he was rolling his eyes over my time with Seth.
Seth and I finally reached the last of the exhibit: Byzantine wedding rings. When I saw them, the warm, comfortable feelings that had wrapped around me suddenly turned to ice. I felt the change in Seth too. Most of the rings were of similar design, with a flat circle lying on top of the ring, the circle surface then engraved with some image. My troubled feelings had nothing to do with weddings or any other associations with Maddie.
Last Christmas, Seth had had a ring made for me in this style. He hadn’t intended it as a wedding or engagement ring. He’d just done it as a gift, knowing the style was part of my past. It was beautiful, and I still had it. It was locked away in a box of treasures I’d kept over the centuries – items too precious to throw out and too painful to look at.
Neither of us said anything, and I wondered what he thought about. Was it just the awkward discomfort from memories of an ex-girlfriend? Was it stirring bittersweet feelings similar to the ones churning in me? When he and Maddie had gotten involved, I’d been convinced he’d moved on. Then, after our brief affair in the spring, I’d reconsidered. There were too many times now that he looked at me strangely, too many times that reminded me of when I was his girlfriend and the times he told me he loved me. But his wedding was still moving forward, with no sign of doubt on his part. I didn’t know what to think.
I’m not sure how long we stood in silence, but Seth broke it. “Well…I guess that’s it for the exhibit, huh?”
I glanced around as though attempting to determine if we’d seen it all. I already knew we had. “Yeah, I guess that’s it.”
He wouldn’t meet my eyes, and his whole body radiated nervousness. “Thanks for the research help. I should get back to the store and put this to good use.”
His eyes lifted, and I offered a small smile that he returned. “Thanks.”
We parted, and I left the museum, not sure where I was going – only that I had to go someplace where he wasn’t. For an hour or so, I’d played make-believe with him, keeping that familiar depression away and allowing myself a small joy. Now, that darkness descended on me…and uneasily, I recalled how that mystery force always showed up when I was troubled. That was its lure: comfort when I felt desperate and alone.
Roman might be my offense, but I decided then to go for a good defense. I needed distraction. “You aren’t going to like this,” I murmured, assuming Roman was close enough to hear.
Distraction wasn’t the only thing I needed. I needed a good energy fix. I was sleeping with enough men regularly that I had a pretty consistent supply of energy. Still, being at full power, so to speak, would keep my strength up – which hopefully would increase my mental resolve.
Not that sleeping with random men was always cheering. I was in no mood to go hunting for victims in a bar. I needed something slightly easier, something a little less sleazy. Normally those two were mutually exclusive, but I’d come up with an idea while driving home that might accomplish both.
There was a twenty-something guy named Gavin who lived in a condo down the hall from me. He was nice enough and had a serious crush on me. He never said or did anything overtly, but it was obvious. He alternated between nervousness and poorly done jokes whenever I was around. He always seemed unwilling to part when we ran into each other in the garage or lobby or whatever. His gaze also spent more time on my cleavage than my eyes.
The beauty of it all was that he also had a girlfriend. I didn’t know if he’d cheated on her before or just wanted to. That wasn’t important at the moment. What was important was that when I showed up at his door after the museum, his girlfriend wasn’t around.
“Georgina,” he said, taken aback. “How…how’s it going?”
“Not great,” I said, forcing distress into my voice. “I got locked out of my place and have to wait for my friend to show up with a spare set of keys. Can I wait here for her? I’m afraid if I go outside, it’ll rain again.”
It was then that Gavin seemed to notice my drenched state, particularly the now transparent white sundress I’d shape-shifted into without a bra.
His eyes bugged out, and then he glanced quickly behind him before turning back to the wet, clinging fabric encasing my breasts and their hardened nipples. “It…it rained? But it’s so nice out.” That brisk fall sunshine was pouring in through his windows.
“I know,” I said glibly. “I was kind of surprised too. It was this really fast freak thing that came out of nowhere.”
This was apparently so unbelievable that Gavin actually managed to tear himself away from me to once more scrutinize the brilliantly blue sky outside. Finally, deciding not to fight this, he beckoned for me to come in.
“Do you have a T-shirt or anything I can wear?” I asked sweetly. “I’m freezing in this.”
His scrutiny had shifted from my breasts to the very noticeable black thong underneath the dress. I think changing out of the dress was a huge disappointment for him, but he wasn’t so socially inept as to refuse me.
“Sure, come on.”
I followed him to his bedroom where he dug out an oversized Seattle Mariners T-shirt and a pair of green flannel boxers. He handed them over.
“See if these work,” he said, backing out of the room to give me privacy.
“Thanks,” I said, giving him a winning smile.
He managed a nervous one in return just before shutting the door. I crossed my arms and waited a minute, during which an invisible Roman said: “This is ridiculous. You should have just shown up as a pizza delivery girl.”
“Hey, the wet dress technique is tried and true. Works every time.”
“Wait in the other room then,” I said. “This shouldn’t take long.”
I opened the door and shouted down the hall, “Hey, Gavin? Can you come help me?”
He popped back in, and I couldn’t help but notice his dark brown hair was a lot neater than it had been earlier. He’d probably dashed off to the bathroom in a quick grooming attempt to impress me.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
I turned around and pushed my hair over one shoulder, showing where the straps of my dress’s halter top were tied behind my neck. “There’s a knot here I can’t get undone. Can you give it a shot?”
He hesitated for only a moment before moving forward to assist. I’d shape-shifted a pretty good knot, and it took him some time to work through it, during which I backed up against him as close as I could. At last, he managed to undo it, pulling the straps apart and releasing them so that I could grab them. I missed, of course, and as the straps fell, so did most of the dress. It went against the laws of physics, seeing as how clingy that wet fabric had been.
I caught the dress in a weak attempt at modesty, but not before it almost entirely fell off. Nearby, I heard another exasperated sigh from Roman.
I turned to face Gavin, holding the dress against me in a way that completely exposed my chest. His eyes were naturally fixed on it, and I glanced down too, as though trying to figure out what he was looking at.
“Oh, man. I’m wet all over. Do you have a towel? I don’t want to get the shirt wet.”
In record speed, he raced to the bathroom and returned with a small hand towel. I decided then not to bother with any more convenient excuses and simply stepped forward, hoping he was smart enough to accept the invitation.
He was. Hesitant at first, he slowly ran the towel over my breasts, lingering when it was obvious they were dry. He moved down to my stomach – which he dried pretty quickly – and then to my hips and thighs. I’d long since let my soggy dress fall to the floor and helpfully pulled off my thong so that he could reach every part. He had to kneel to do my inner thighs, and I heard him mutter, “Oh my God.” I wasn’t sure if that was simply because of the situation he was in or because his girlfriend hadn’t gone Brazilian.
“You have great hands,” I purred.
“Th-thanks,” he said inanely. He’d just finished my legs and stood up. I took the towel and tossed it on the bed. Catching hold of his hand, I gently stroked it and brought it between my thighs.
“Really great,” I said in an even lower voice. “Long fingers…”
I guided a couple of those fingers into me, and I swear, he gasped louder than I did. After a little more urging, he no longer needed my assistance and began rapidly thrusting his fingers on his own. I pressed to him, moaning as though it were the most amazing experience of my life. I was wetter on the inside than out, and the only resistance he encountered was in how tight I’d made myself.
Reaching around his arm, I unfastened his pants and pulled them off in one motion. His erection pointed out at me long and hard and ready. It had probably been that way the moment I showed up at the door. Gripping his shirt I pulled him toward the bed.
“The rest,” I gasped, spreading myself in front of him. “Let me see how the rest feels.”
The hand that had been in me left as he laid himself on top of me. He pushed my thighs apart and thrust in with a force that contradicted his earlier shyness. In fact, his face showed no nervousness whatsoever anymore. He was all eagerness and desire, emitting small grunts each time he shoved himself into me.
“Harder,” I told him, giving him big, passionate eyes. “I want it harder.”
He obliged, increasing the speed and force. After about a minute of this, he shifted up so that he was kneeling. Holding my thighs just below my knees, he spread my legs far apart and leaned in. The new position allowed him to get deeper, and I exclaimed my approval, urging him again to do it harder and harder.
Steadily, I felt his life energy begin to flow into me. It was a decent amount, and it felt glorious, spreading through my being and reinvigorating me. With it came his thoughts and feelings, at which point I learned he never had actually cheated on his girlfriend before – but, oh, he’d wanted to plenty of times. She barely crossed his mind at the moment. He was too consumed by me to feel much guilt. The only brief concern he had was that he should have used a condom. That was a regret, but it wasn’t strong enough for him to stop, not when I felt this good.
I let my cries escalate into small screams and felt him grow closer and closer to coming. My head was getting dangerously close to the headboard, but the roughness of it all was really turning him on. He’d never had the opportunity to just go so wild. Harder and harder he went, thrusting himself in all the way each time. The energy increased by leaps and bounds, and just before the big moment came, I decided to drive home the guilt a little. It made me feel some guilt in return, but at the end of the day, guilt marked the soul, and that was what Hell employed me for.
“Can she do this?” I panted. He was half a second from coming. “Can your girlfriend take it like this?”
The orgasm exploded – and so did he. He pulled out at the last second, not because of what I’d said but because this was his solution to the condom problem. Withdrawal was a horrible safe sex method, but whatever. His body spasmed and he came on my stomach. It was warm against my flesh, and he watched with a perverse fascination.
Yet, just before it had happened, I’d felt my dagger hit. He’d been so consumed by lust that he’d been able to block his girlfriend out earlier. My comment had pushed her to the fore-front, but there had been no way he could stop what he was doing by that point. I’d felt the spike of guilt, just as the last burst of life energy sparkled through me.
He fell back against the covers, gasping and exhausted. Losing some of your life will do that to you. Whatever thoughts of guilt or satisfaction he felt now were his alone. The towel was still conveniently on the bed, and I used it to clean myself up. I stood up and walked over to the window while he still tried to catch his breath. He’d probably fall asleep in a few minutes.
“Oh, hey,” I said cheerfully. “My friend’s out there with the key.” I picked up the sodden dress and headed for the door. “Thanks for letting me hang out.”