“She couldn’t have!” I exclaimed.“He was with me all night.”
“Not after the concert ended,” pointed out Roman.“You know, I think that band might really be going somewhere.” Whatever trace of sentiment he’d shown earlier with me had vanished in Carter’s presence.
“Simone was hanging out in that twenty-four-hour coffee shop,” Carter said.
“Seth went there to work after – what was it you said? You were at a concert?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Blue Satin Bra.”
The angel gave Roman a nod of agreement. “Those guys are great.”
“Hey, can we stick to the issue here?” I gave both of them glares. “What happened with Seth and Simone?”
Carter shrugged. “Same as usual. He came in and noticed her first, though. She had her head in a book – didn’t even look up until he walked over.”
“Well played,” I said. “Forces him into the aggressive role.”
“I don’t think Seth’s ever really in an aggressive role,” mused Carter. “It just put him in a position to make the first move, if he wanted to be polite.”
During our brief affair, Seth and I had made love so tenderly and so sweetly that poets would have wept at its beauty. Other times, things had been downright dirty, and I think Carter might have reconsidered his comment about Seth being aggressive, had the angel known.
“Then what?” I demanded.
“Like I said, the same. They talked about different things – a lot of topics interesting to Seth, really. I think she might have done some research on him.”
“Fucking lovely.” I collapsed onto the couch, and then I promptly shot back up. “I’m going over there – “
“Gone,” interrupted Carter. “They went separate ways, and then she bagged some guy, and I decided it was time for me to fly away.”
“Lucky bastard,” grumbled Roman. “You have no idea what kind of shit I had to sit through.”
The hint of a smile flickered on Carter’s face before he turned back to me. I sighed and sat back down. “Confronting her’s no good anyway. You already did it, and nothing came of it. I’m guessing this would just be a repeat.”
Probably a good point. Being in a conflict with a succubus kind of sucked. I could punch Hugh or the vampires, and even with immortal healing, they’d still sport a black eye for a few hours – longer if I was really good. But with a succubus? I could smack her around, and she’d shape-shift the damage. And as for verbal fighting? Well, seeing as I had no real leverage, I’d probably just fuel her further and provide more cat fight entertainment for my friends.
“Well,” I said to Roman. “I think I’m pissed off enough now that you don’t have to go to bed with me.”
Carter’s eyebrow rose again.
“I mean, he doesn’t have to watch me sleep,” I explained. “I was kind of glum earlier, and we were worried my mystery…thing…might show up again.”
“Why glum?” asked Carter. He attempted innocence, but I wasn’t fooled. Even without being at the concert, he could easily figure out what had me down.
Those silvery gray eyes bored into me, and I shifted and looked away. I hated when he did that. It was like he could see into my soul. That was a place I didn’t even want to look at – let alone have others do it. I attempted a change in subject.
“You know, I was thinking about this thing that’s going on…this force or siren song or whatever. It’s not like what happened with Nyx, but there’s still a dreamlike quality to it, you know? I mean, it certainly seems like I’m sleepwalking. Do you think she could be back?”
“Nope,” said Carter. “She’s definitely still locked up. I checked myself.”
I didn’t follow up with the obvious question. Had Carter done it for me? I mean, checking up on Nyx probably wasn’t too hard for him. He probably just asked some angel buddy who asked another angel…etc. It still made me wonder about Carter’s endgame. Why go to such trouble for me? Why look into this? Why track Simone?
His expression made me think he guessed my thoughts, something I hated. “Thanks,” I said. “But I think I’m heading to bed now.”
“And I,” said Carter, “am going to get a drink.”
“Done with Simone for good?” asked Roman.
Carter made a dismissive gesture. “At least for tonight. I’ll find her in the morning.”
“You’re kind of a slacker spy,” I pointed out, though I definitely understood his reasons for avoiding the other succubus’ liaisons.
His only response was another smile before he vanished.
“Now what?” I wondered aloud.
“Now,” said Roman, “you get your beauty sleep so that I can have another captivating day of listening to you give recommendations for people who enjoyed The Da Vinci Code.”
“You know you love it,” I said, walking off toward my bedroom.
“Sure you don’t want company?”
I glanced back at him and studied his face, the lovely lines of it and blue-green eyes like the Mediterranean of my youth. His expression was speculative, wry humor twisting his lips. I couldn’t entirely tell if he was joking. Or what his exact meaning was.
My words were a little bolder than I felt, but the night passed uneventfully, again furthering the idea that my blue moods were the target. Consequently, this put me in a good mood when I went to work the next day. I even wore yellow in an attempt at further cheeriness and greeted my coworkers with such enthusiasm that Doug wanted to know what drugs I was taking – and if he could have some.
All of that changed when, while headed for the science fiction section, I felt something totally unwelcome: an immortal signature. A succubus immortal signature. And I knew exactly which succubus it belonged to. I did a 180, took a few steps, and tried to pinpoint its direction. Fiction.
I headed straight over there, and sure enough, there was Simone – with Seth. She wore that guise I’d heard reports of, the bookish – yet sexy – brunette. They were standing by Seth’s section, and she was holding up one of his paperbacks, Idiosyncraso. I knew she could feel my signature as I approached, but her eyes stayed on Seth, her conversation not missing a beat.
“You really wrote this in college?”
“Yup,” he said. “It wasn’t the first I had published, though. I shelved it for years before digging it out and revising it.”
“Cool,” she said, flipping through the pages. “I can’t wait to read it. It’ll give me something to do before your next one.”
“Well, don’t get your – oh, hey.”
Seth had spotted me. I came to a stop beside them, and Simone turned toward me politely.
“How’s it going?” I asked, voice harsher than I intended.
Seth, always sensitive to me, looked a little surprised at my tone but didn’t acknowledge it. “Fine. Georgina, this is Kelly. Kelly, Georgina. Georgina’s the manager here.”
I shook her hand with a hardness she matched, and we both continued grinning at each other like Stepford Wives.
“I met Kelly at a coffee shop,” said Seth mildly, not aware he was in succubus crossfire. “Told her she should see the store sometime.”
“It’s great,” said Simone, all adorable innocence. “I’m a big reader. I love all things books. And meeting one of my favorite authors has given me great insight.”
“Well,” said Seth, a little embarrassed at the attention. “I don’t know how much insight I’m really offering.”
Simone laughed. “Lots. I feel like I’m getting something from you each time I see you.”
“Have you seen each other a lot?” I asked.
“Kelly moved to Queen Anne,” said Seth. “So we keep running into each other.”
“It’s a great area,” I said. “Where do you live?”
Simone faltered. “Um, on Queen Anne.”
“Street, Avenue, or Drive?”
Seth seemed surprised at the interrogative style of the question. Simone turned nervous. “Eh, Avenue.”
Damn. Lucky guess. Queen Anne Street didn’t exist.
“Nice place.” Turning my back on her, I looked at Seth. “I came over because I heard someone say Maddie was looking for you.” That wasn’t true at all. Maddie wasn’t even in for another hour. I gave Simone a casual glance. “Maddie’s his fianc?¦e.”
“I didn’t think she was in yet,” said Seth.
Why, of all days, would his memory be up and running today? “Maybe I misheard,” I said with a shrug. “But I figured you’d want to check.”
“I will,” he said, still a little puzzled. “I need to show Kelly one more book.”
She shot me a triumphant look, but I knew she’d accomplished nothing with Seth. He had that expression he got when he was so focused on something – in this case, the history of books – that he was distracted from the world. “Kelly” was a pleasant coincidence. Simone was too overconfident to notice.
Seth turned back to the shelves, and me staying would have seemed awkward. With his attention elsewhere, I shot Simone a warning look. “Well, I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
“Oh,” she said with a serene smile, “you will.”
When I got home later that day, I was ready to break some furniture. “Did you see – “
“Yes, yes, I saw,” said Roman, materializing beside me. “Calm down.”
I let out a small cry of frustration, something primal with no real form. “I can’t believe that bitch! Can’t believe she’d actually do it right in front of me! She did it on purpose. She did it on purpose to taunt me.”
Roman was the picture of tranquility as he leaned against the wall, a far cry from my frazzled, pacing state. “Of course she did. It’s like mobsters who threaten their victims in a crowd – there’s absolutely no way you could have fought back, not with that many witnesses.”
“Nice analogy,” I muttered. “Maybe there’ll be a horse head in my bed next.”
“I could leave one in hers, if it would help,” he offered.
That almost made me smile. Almost. Except I wasn’t entirely sure he was joking. “The really comical part is that Seth brought it about, you know? He was trying to stay away from me and walked right into this.”
“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
I didn’t dignify that with an answer.
“Look,” he said in all seriousness, taking a few steps toward me. “It sucks that she’s doing this, and we can definitely rule out coincidence. But if Seth’s with Maddie while she’s there, you know nothing’s going to happen. And Carter will report back to us. No point in getting worked up over it.”
“Easier said than done. Nothing’s going to distract me from this.”
He moved closer still and rested his hands on my upper arms. “Oh? When was the last time you went dancing?”
I blinked in surprise. The last time I’d been dancing? It had been a salsa lesson at the bookstore earlier this year, after which Seth and I had ripped each other’s clothes off in my office.
“A while ago,” I said evasively, thrown off by both the question and his fingertips on my skin. “Why?”
“Let’s go out,” he said. “There are a million places we can go. Any kind of dance you want. If memory serves, you’re an okay dancer.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I’m an excellent dancer, and you know it.”
He leaned his face closer. “Then prove it.”
“Irrelevant. I don’t feel like going out.”
Roman sighed and stepped away. I found I was a little disappointed to have him let go. “Man,” he said. “I remember when you used to be fun. I’m glad I left town when I did.” He walked over to my entertainment center and knelt down. “Well, if Muhammed won’t come to the mountain…”
“Good grief. You’re a wealth of religious proverbs tonight, aren’t you?”
“Hey, just trying to – Jesus Christ. CDs? You do know the Dark Ages ended a long time ago.” He pointed at my collection with disdain. “Everyone’s gone digital now. You know, those little magical devices that store music? Or do you consider them some kind of witchcraft?”
“Technology changes every year. Jump on a fad, and you’re obsolete before you know it.”
“Honestly, it’s a wonder you aren’t cooking over a fire in the middle of your living room.”
“You forget – I don’t cook.”
“I live here. I haven’t forgotten.”
By then, he’d put one of my “archaic” CDs in the player. I laughed. “You’re one to talk about ancient history. This is old school.”
“Nah.” He rose and offered me his hands. “This is classic. Never goes out of style.”
“Yeah,” I said, as the music began playing. “All the kids are doing foxtrot nowadays. Geez, it’s even the slow style.” But I still let him take hold of my hands.
“Hey, you’re the one who owns that CD.”
We both fell into the steps effortlessly, gliding around the living room and managing to dodge the furniture with some grace. Roman had a long list of flaws, but one of his better traits was that he was almost as good a dancer as me.
“Why do you dance so well?” I asked, stepping over Aubrey. She didn’t seem concerned at all about getting squashed and had shown no signs of moving when we began to dance.
“What kind of a question is that? Why do you dance so well?”
“Natural instinct, I guess. That’s what I’m wondering. Was it something you were born with? Or is it something you can’t help but perfect over the years? I mean, you’ve been around for a while. I suppose if you put your mind to something that long, you can’t help but master it.”
He laughed. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know. Maybe it’s in the blood.”
“Oh, come on. I cannot picture Jerome out on the dance floor.”
“Not him. My mother. She was a dancer. A slave girl for this king a long, long time ago…” Roman’s gaze turned inward. He didn’t seem angry, so much as nostalgic. “Of course, he was pretty pissed off when she got pregnant. That kind of thing tends to ruin the chorus line.”
“What happened to her?” I hadn’t been around that long ago, but certain things stayed the same through time. Slaves who angered their masters got beaten or sold to someone else. Or worse.
“I don’t know. Jerome took her away, off to some village where she could be a free woman.”
I frowned. I still had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of my boss falling – romantically and divinely – for a mortal. “Did he stay with her? He would have been a demon by then….”
“He never came back. First time I saw him was last year. My mother didn’t hold a grudge, though. She would talk about him all the time…said he was beautiful. I don’t know if she meant as an angel or a demon, though. Probably he looked the same, seeing as they’re the same beings, really.”
“I’m guessing he didn’t look like John Cusack though.”
“No.” This made Roman laugh again. “Probably not. My mother took on mundane jobs whenever we moved villages – washing woman, field worker. But at least she was free. And she still danced sometimes. I saw her once, when I was really young…just before she was killed. There was a festival, and I remember her dancing in front of the fire, wearing this red dress.” All mirth disappeared from him. “That image is burned into my mind. I can see how an angel would have fallen for her.”
I didn’t ask any questions about how she was killed. In those days, it could have been as simple as a raid or attack. They were commonplace. Or, more likely, she’d been killed in an attempt on Roman and his sister. He’d once mentioned that they were always on the run from angels and demons.
“So maybe you learned to dance as a subconscious tribute to her,” I said, shifting to something lighter.
That half-smile returned. “Or maybe I just inherited my father’s attraction to graceful, sensual women.”
The song ended, and we stood there, frozen in time with our hands still entwined. Foxtrot was hardly the bumping and grinding seen in modern clubs, but our bodies were close, and I felt like I could sense the heat from his. Whether it was real or imagined, I couldn’t say. But I did know there was something very seductive about dancing, about mirroring another’s body, and somehow, I wasn’t surprised when he leaned down and kissed me.
I was a little surprised that I kissed him back. But not for long. Because as our lips met, I realized how much I’d come to regard Roman as a comforting fixture in my life. We’d grown from adversaries to friends to…what? I didn’t entirely know. I did know that I liked having him around and that I’d never really shaken the attraction that had drawn me to him long ago. I also knew that I was lonely for the touch of someone I liked and that I had an automatic instinct to respond to this sort of thing.
His mouth pressed harder against mine, as hot and demanding as I recalled. His hands quickly moved from the formal orientation of foxtrot to something more intimate and eager, sliding down to my hips and somehow managing to push me against the wall while also shoving my shirt up. My own hands were around his neck, my lower body pressing against his as I felt all my nerves set on fire and lust coursing through me.
He managed to break away enough to pull my shirt off, and then his hands moved to my breasts, which were wrapped in a white lace bra. He glanced down and made a face as he pulled from our kiss. “Can’t you make it a front hook?”
A small bit of shape-shifting made the bra disappear altogether. “Don’t trouble yourself,” I said.
He smiled and moved his lips to my neck while his hands cupped the curves of my breasts. It made it impossible for me to take his shirt off, but I slid my hands under it, loving the feel of his warm skin and taut muscles. I tipped my head back, letting him taste me and increase the intensity of his kissing.
And through it all, there were no voices in my head. I heard none of his thoughts, sensed none of his feelings. I was alone – alone with my own reactions, simply enjoying the way my body felt with no other interruptions. It was glorious.
I at last managed a break that let me pull his shirt off, and then my hands moved to his pants, putting us in a brief deadlock as he tried to move his lips to my nipples. I won and watched his pants fall to the floor. With that concession, he pulled me down as well and continued his efforts to kiss my breasts, almost kneeling before me as he did so. I ran my hands through his hair, gripping his head while his mouth sucked and teased. As he did, his eyes glanced up and met mine. I saw the desire in them and – something more.
Something I hadn’t expected to see. There was…what? Love? Adoration? Affection? I couldn’t quite pin it down, but I recognized the general category. It was a slap to the face. I hadn’t anticipated it. Lust, I’d expected. A primitive instinct to throw me down and fuck me, in order to relieve his body’s need. For so long, I’d operated on the assumption that he kind of liked me and kind of wanted to hate me. Yet, now, I realized those nice moments we’d had recently weren’t coincidence. His sharp attitude had been a facade, meant to hide his feelings.
Roman still loved me.
I identified it for what it was. He wasn’t doing this just because he wanted my body. He wanted me. This was more than just fulfilling a physical instinct for him, and suddenly…suddenly, I didn’t know what to do. Because I realized then, I didn’t know why I was doing this. There was a fair amount of lust on my part, and I’d grown closer to him since his return to Seattle. But the rest…? I wasn’t sure. There was so much going on right now: Maddie, Simone, Seth…Always Seth. Seth, who even now made my heart ache while I was wrapped in the arms of another man. My emotions were a tangle of confusion and hurt and desperation. I was with Roman as some sort of reaction, some attempt to fill the hole in my heart and seek false comfort. My feelings didn’t match his. I couldn’t do this with him. I didn’t deserve to do this with him.
I pushed him away and jumped to my feet, backing off toward the hallway.
“No…” I said. “I can’t…I can’t. I’m sorry.”
He stared up at me, understandably confused and a little hurt after the ardor I’d displayed seconds ago. “What are you talking about? What’s wrong?”
I didn’t know how to explain it, didn’t know how I could even begin to articulate what I felt inside of me. I just shook my head and continued backing. “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…I’m just not ready.”
Roman sprang to his feet in one graceful motion. He took a step toward me. “Georgina…”
But I was already moving away, off to the safety of my bedroom. I slammed the door behind me – not from anger, but from a desperate need to stay away from him. From the hall, I heard him call my name and feared he’d come in anyway, despite my refusal to answer. I had no lock, and even if I did, it wouldn’t stop him. He said my name a few more times, and then silence fell. I think he returned to the living room, backing off and giving me my space.
I flung myself onto the bed, gripping the sheets tightly and trying not to cry. That horrible despair that plagued me so often filled me now. It was an old friend, one that I would never be able to leave. All my relationships – friends and lovers – were a mess. I was either hurting them, or they were hurting me. There was no peace for me. There never would be, not for this servant of Hell.
And then, through that horrible, clenching pain inside me, I felt the lightest of touches. A whisper. A breath of music, of color, of light. I lifted my head up from where I’d buried it in my pillow and stared around. There was nothing tangible, not exactly, but I could sense it all around me: that warm, comforting siren song. It had no words, yet in my despair, I could hear it perfectly. It was telling me I was wrong, that I could have peace. And not just that – I could have comfort and love and so much more. It was like arms beckoning to me, a mother welcoming home a long-lost child.
I slowly rose from my bed, moving toward that which had no form. Come, come.
Outside my door, I heard Roman shout my name, but the tone was different from before. This wasn’t confusion or pleading. It was frantic and concerned. The sound was grating to my ears as I stepped closer to that beautiful warmth. It was home. It was an invitation. All I had to do was accept.
“Georgina!” The door blew apart, and Roman stood there, blazing with power. “Georgina, stop – “
But it was too late. I had accepted.
All that joy and protection wrapped around me, taking me into its arms.
The world dissolved.