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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 10

Jesus.What had I been thinking? I had to work today.Not only that, I had to work in ten minutes.

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I had no time for “real” clothing or makeup. With a sigh, I shape-shifted form, my robe giving way to gray slacks and an ivory blouse, hair and makeup suddenly done to my normal, immaculate perfection. Brushing my teeth and adding perfume could not be faked, and after performing those tasks, I grabbed my purse and sprinted out.

When I reached my lobby, the desk clerk called out to me.

“Got something for you.” He handed over a flat parcel.

Still conscious of the time, I quickly tore at the wrapping and stifled a gasp at what I found. Black Velvet Paint by Number Kit, read the package. A subheading proclaimed: Create Your Own Masterpiece! Contains Everything You Need to Paint Just Like a Real Artist! The “masterpiece” I could create depicted a desert landscape with a giant cactus to one side and a howling coyote on the other. An eagle soared in the sky, and a ghostly, disembodied Native American head floated nearby. Terribly stereotyped and cheesy.

A small piece of paper had been taped to it. Start small, the note said. Love, Roman. The writing was so perfect as to be unreal.

I was still chuckling when I got to work. In my office, I settled in front of the computer and discovered a second morning surprise: another e-mail from Seth. It had been sent at five in the morning.

Georgina,

A few years ago, while writing Gods of Gold, I met a woman at a class I took on South American archaeology. I don’t know how it is for women; it’s probably not even always the same for us men. But for me, when I meet someone I’m attracted to, time stands still. The planets come into alignment, and I stop breathing. The angels themselves descend to sit upon my shoulders, whispering promises of love and devotion while less heavenly creatures whisper promises of an earthier, baser nature. I guess that’s part of being a man.

Anyway, that was what happened with this woman. We fell pretty hard for each other and dated off and on for a very long time. Some days we wouldn’t be able to leave each other’s side for more than a minute, and then later, months would go by without any sort of contact. I have to confess, this latter behavior was more my fault than hers. I mentioned before that Cady and O’Neill are demanding. During phases when I was hot into my writing, I wouldn’t be able to think about or do anything else that didn’t involve my novel. I knew it hurt her – knew she was the kind of person who wanted to settle down and start a family, live a quiet and committed life. I was not that kind of person – I’m not even sure I am now – but I liked the idea of always having someone around, someone reliable who I could call up when I was finally ready to make time. It really wasn’t fair to do that to her, always leave her hanging like that. I should have ended things early on, but I was too selfish and too comfortable.

One day, after not having spoken to her in a few months, I called her up and was astonished to hear a man answer the phone. When she came on the line, she told me she’d met someone else and wouldn’t be able to see me anymore. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I started rambling, going on and on about how much I cared for her, how she couldn’t throw away what we had. She took it all pretty nicely, considering what a psycho I must have sounded like, but in the end, she closed things by saying I shouldn’t have expected her to wait forever. She had her own life to live.

The reason I share this embarrassing tale from the canon of Seth Mortensen is twofold. First, I need to apologize to you for what happened tonight. In spite of my grumblings, I really did intend to meet you. A couple hours before the game, I ran home to get something and suddenly thought of a solution to the snag that had been blocking me all day. I sat down to write, only planning to spend an hour on it. As you might be guessing by now, it took a lot longer than that. I got so caught up that I completely forgot about the game – and about you. I never heard my phone ring. I wasn’t aware of anything else except getting the story out on paper (or rather, my screen).

This, I’m afraid, is a problem I frequently have. It happened with my ex, it happens with my family, and unfortunately, it happened with you. Don’t even get my brother started about how I nearly missed his wedding. The worlds and people in my head are so alive to me that I lose track of the real world. Sometimes I’m not even convinced Cady and O’Neill’s world isn’t the real one. I never mean to hurt people, and I feel terrible afterward, but it is a failing I can’t seem to overcome.

None of this justifies abandoning you last night, but I hoped this might offer some insight into my unbalanced worldview. Please understand how very sorry I am.

My second reason for the memoir is to address your comment about Cady “getting some.” In thinking about her and O’Neill, I decided that Cady wasn’t the kind of person who would wait around forever either. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think Cady and my ex-girlfriend have a lot in common. Cady isn’t looking to settle in the suburbs and pick out curtains with O’Neill. But, she is a bright and passionate woman, who loves life, and wants to live it. A lot of people were upset to see her break out of her devoutly chaste, puppy-at-O’Neill’s-side role, but I think she had to do it.

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Let’s face it: O’Neill takes her for granted, and he needed a wake-up call. Now, does this mean steps are being made to finally bring them together, as so many readers have asked? Naturally, as their creator, my lips are sealed on that, but I can say this: I have a lot more books with them in mind, and readers tend to lose interest when protagonists hook up. – Seth

P.S. – By the way, I bought the condo. Mistee was so excited that she took me on the spot, and we made love all over the granite countertops.

P.P.S. – All right, I’m making up that last part. Like I said, I’m a man. And a writer.

My eyes still heavy with sleep, I sluggishly pondered the letter’s message. Seth had had a serious girlfriend. Wow. That shouldn’t have surprised me, especially considering the sex scenes he wrote. I mean, he couldn’t have pulled them all out of imagination. Still, it was hard to picture introverted Seth participating in all the social exchanges normally required of a long-term relationship.

And then the other part, his reasons for not showing. What to think of those? He was right in saying his burst of inspiration was no excuse for what he had done. The explanation did take away some of the sting, however, moving him from rude to simply thoughtless. No, maybe thoughtless was too harsh. Scattered, that was it. Perhaps scattered wasn’t such a bad thing, I mused, since ignoring the real world allowed him to work on the written one. I just didn’t know.

I pondered all this for the rest of the morning, my anger from last night growing cold in the wake of time passing and my speculation on a brilliant writer’s mind. By the time lunch rolled around, I realized I had gotten over the hockey mishap. He had not intended the neglect, and it wasn’t like my night had turned out too badly after all.

Around late afternoon, Warren came trolling around.

“No,” I said immediately, recognizing the look in his eyes. I hated his presumption, yet always found myself eerily drawn to it. “I’m in a terrible mood.”

“I’ll make you feel better.”

“I told you, I’m too bitchy.”

“I like you bitchy.” The succubus feeding instinct began waking up. I swallowed, annoyed at it and my own weakness. “And I’m really busy. There are… things… I should do…” My excuse sounded halfhearted, though, and Warren apparently recognized that.

He walked over to me and knelt by my chair, running a hand over my thigh. I wore thin, silky slacks, and the feel of his fingers stroking me through that smooth material was almost more sensual than on bare skin.

“How was your date the other night?” he murmured, moving his mouth up to my ear and then my neck.

I arched my head obligingly, in spite of my best resistance, liking the way his mouth grew fiercer against my skin, his teeth just teasing me. He was far from being a boyfriend but was still the closest I had to any sort of consistent relationship. That meant something. “Fine.”

“Did you fuck him?”

“No. I slept alone, alas.”

“Good.”

“He’s coming back tonight, though. For the dance lesson.”

“Really?” Warren unbuttoned the top two buttons of my blouse, revealing a pale pink lace bra. His fingertips traced the shape of one of my breasts, following its inner curve down to where it met the other one. Then he moved his hand up to that breast, playing with the nipple through the lace. I closed my eyes, surprised at my swelling desire. After helping Hugh close the contract with Martin, I wouldn’t have thought I’d need a fix so soon. Yet, the hunger tugged ever so slightly within me, mingled with lust. Pure instinct. “We’ll introduce him to Maria.”

Maria was Warren’s wife. The thought of passing Roman off on her was too funny.

“You sound jealous,” I teased. I pulled Warren toward me, and he responded by pushing me on top of the desk. I moved my hands down to unfasten his pants.

“I am,” he grunted. Leaning over, he pulled the bra down to bare my breasts and lowered his mouth to one of the nipples. He hesitated. “Are you sure you didn’t fuck him?”

“I think I’d remember something like that.”

A knock sounded at the door, and Warren hastily sprang away from me, pulling up his pants. “Shit.”

I, too, sat up and returned to my chair. With Warren’s eyes on the door, I quickly used some more shape-shifting to neaten myself up and rebutton my blouse. Satisfied we were both decent, I called, “Come in.”

Seth opened the door.

I clamped down on my jaw, lest it drop open in astonishment.

“Hi,” said Seth, looking back and forth between Warren and me. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“No, no, you aren’t,” Warren assured him, clicking into public relations mode. “We were just having a quick meeting.”

“Not a very important one,” I added. Warren gave me a droll look.

“Oh,” said Seth, still appearing like he wanted to bolt. “I just came by to see if maybe… you wanted lunch. I… e-mailed you about what happened.”

“Yeah, I read it. Thanks.”

I smiled at him, hoping to silently communicate that all was forgiven. The worried look on his face was so heart-wrenching that I felt certain his conscience had suffered more than my ego last night.

“Excellent idea,” boomed Warren. “Let’s all go get some lunch, shall we? Georgina and I can meet again later.”

“I can’t.”

I reminded him about how short-staffed we were and how I was needed for coverage. He scowled when I finished.

“Why haven’t we hired anyone?”

“I’m working on it.”

Warren ended up just taking Seth out – something the writer seemed highly uneasy about – and I was left alone, feeling abandoned. I would have half liked to hear what else Seth had to say about writing taking over his life. I might have even liked getting laid. Neither was to be. Ah, the injustices of the universe.

I apparently had one karmic favor left, however. Around four, Tammi – the red-haired girl from Krystal Starz – showed up to solve my staffing problem. As suggested, she brought a friend. After a quick interview, I felt satisfied by their competency. I hired them on the spot, pleased to have one task taken off my list.

When the store finally closed later, those few hours of sleep were catching up with me more fiercely. I felt in no mood to teach a dance lesson.

Realizing I needed to change, I closed the office door and shape-shifted my outfit for the second time that day. It felt like cheating, as always. For dancing I selected a sleeveless dress, clingy through the bodice and flowing through the skirt – just right for twirls. Colored in blending hues of peach and orange, I hoped the dress would warm my mood up. I also hoped no one had noticed I hadn’t carried a change of clothes in with me this morning.

On the overhead speakers, I heard one of the cashiers make the announcement that the store had closed, just as another knock sounded on my door. I called an entry, wondering if it might be Seth again, but Cody appeared this time.

“Hey,” I said, forcing a smile. “Are you ready for this?”

I had taught Cody to swing dance a year or so ago, and he had picked it up remarkably well, probably half due to vampire reflexes. As a result, I had – against his better judgment – recruited him to be my coteacher in these impromptu lessons for the staff. He kept claiming he was no good, but in both lessons so far, he’d proven remarkably efficient.

“What? Dancing? Yeah. No problem.”

I glanced around, ascertaining we were alone. “Any more weird occurrences?”

Cody shook his head, blond hair framing it like a lion’s mane. “No. It’s been pretty quiet. Maybe I was overreacting.”

“Better safe than sorry,” I advised, feeling like somebody’s cliched grandmother. “What are you doing after this?”

“Meeting Peter at a bar downtown. You want to come with us?”

“Sure.” We’d all be safer as a group.

The door pushed open, and Seth stuck his head inside. “Hey, I – oh, I’m sorry,” he stammered, catching sight of Cody. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“No, no,” I said, waving him inside. “We were just talking.” I gave Seth a curious look. “What are you still doing here? Are you staying for the lesson?”

“Er, well I, that is, Warren invited me to… but I don’t think I’ll actually dance. If that’s okay.”

“Not dance? What are you going to do then, watch?” I demanded. “Be like a voyeur or something?”

Seth gave me a sage look, appearing for the first time in a while like the guy who had written the comic observations about real estate agents and old girlfriends. The guy I’d once engaged in a stumbling flirtation with.

“I’m not that desperate. Not yet, anyway. But it’s really safer if I don’t dance. For those around me.”

“That’s what I used to say until she made me try it,” remarked Cody, clapping me on the shoulder. “Just wait until you’ve been in Georgina’s capable hands. You’ll never be the same.”

Before any of us could acknowledge that suggestive comment, Doug appeared behind Seth, outfitted as his grunge band self rather than assistant manager self.

“Hey, are we getting this party started or what? I came back here today just for this lesson, Kincaid. You better make the trip worth my while. Hey, Cody.”

“Hey, Doug.”

“Hey, Seth.”

“Hey, Doug.”

I groaned. “All right. Let’s do this.”

We left en masse for the cafe, where tables were being moved to give us space. I introduced Cody and Seth along the way. They shook hands briefly, the young vampire looking at me meaningfully when he realized just which Seth this must be.

“You sure you aren’t going to dance?” I asked the writer, still puzzled by his obstinacy.

“Nope. Just doesn’t feel right.”

“Yeah, well, after the shitty day I’ve had, running this shindig doesn’t feel right to me either, but we all endure. Put on the happy face and go, you know?”

Seth looked like he didn’t know, only giving me a small, bemused smile. A moment later, that smile dimmed slightly. “You said you got the e-mail… did it… do you…”

“It’s fine. Forget about it.” His bizarre social habits might not mesh with mine, but I couldn’t stand seeing him worry anymore about last night. “Honestly.” I patted his arm, gave him my Helen of Troy smile, then turned my attention to the scene upstairs.

Most of the staff who’d worked today milled around, along with a few others who, like Doug, had come back. Warren and his wife waited with them, and so did Roman.

He approached with a smile when he saw me, and I felt a faint wave of lust sweep me, independent of any succubus feeding. As good-looking as ever, he wore black slacks and a teal shirt that gleamed like his eyes.

“Group date, huh?”

“For my safety. I’ve always found it best to keep a few dozen chaperones on hand.”

“You’ll need a few dozen more in that dress,” he warned in a low voice, those eyes molesting me from head to toe.

I flushed, taking a few steps away from him. “You’ll have to wait your turn, like everyone else.”

Turning away from him, I inadvertently made eye contact with Seth. He had obviously overheard the brief exchange. My blush deepening, I fled both of them for the center of the floor, Cody in tow.

Putting on the so-called “happy face,” I pushed my long day out of my mind and grinned at my coworkers’ whoops and cheers. “All right, gang, let’s get going. Doug’s in kind of a hurry and wants to finish this up as quickly as possible. I understand that’s pretty standard for him in a lot of matters – especially romantic ones.” This elicited both positive and negative catcalls from the crowd, as well as an obscene gesture from Doug.

I reintroduced Cody, who was less comfortable with the attention than I was, and began sizing up the group. We had more women than men, per usual, and a wide range of skill levels. I split couples up accordingly, putting especially adept women with other women since I felt confident they could dance the male part for this practice and switch effortlessly later. I didn’t have such faith in everybody; some of them still struggled to follow a beat.

Consequently, I started the lesson by reviewing from last time, turning on the music and making everyone practice basic steps. Cody and I monitored, making minor adjustments and suggestions. My tension from the long day eased slightly as I worked the crowd. I loved swing dancing, had loved it when it first emerged in the early twentieth century, and had been thrilled when its revival came around recently. I knew it was going out of style again, which was part of the reason I wanted to pass on the knowledge to others.

Not knowing Roman’s level of expertise, I’d placed him with Paige, a pretty skilled dancer. After watching them a minute or so, I shook my head and approached.

“You hustler,” I chastised. “You acted all nervous about dancing, but in reality, you’re a pro.”

“I’ve done it a few times,” he admitted modestly, taking her into a turn I hadn’t taught them yet.

“Stop that. I’m splitting you guys up. Your skills are needed elsewhere.”

“Oh come on,” pleaded Paige. “Let me keep him. It’s about time we had a man around here who knows what he’s doing.”

Roman cut me a glance. “She said it, not me.”

I turned my eyes heavenward and reassigned them to new partners.

After a bit more supervising, I grew satisfied with the whole group’s prowess, convinced I’d see little change. Deciding to move on, Cody and I taught them lindy kicks next. Not surprisingly, chaos soon broke out. The gifted in the group picked the move up right away, those who had struggled previously continued to struggle, and some who had performed fine with the basic steps and turns now fell completely apart.

Cody and I moved through the dancers, doing damage control, offering our words of wisdom.

“Keep the tension in your wrist, Beth – not too much, though. Don’t hurt yourself.”

“Count, damn it! Count! The beats are still the same as before.”

“Keep facing your partner… don’t lose track of her.”

My role as teacher consumed me, and I loved it. Who cared about vampire hunters and the eternal struggles of good and evil?

I caught sight of Seth sitting off to the side, just as he’d vowed. “Hey, voyeur, still just want to watch?” I chided, breathless and excited from running all over the makeshift dance floor.

He shook his head, a faint smile playing across his features as he studied me. “Plenty to see from here.”

Standing up from his chair, he leaned forward in a familiar sort of way, startling me when his hand reached out and pushed up a dress strap that had slipped off my shoulder down to my arm “There,” he pronounced. “Perfect.”

Goose bumps rose on my flesh at his touch, his fingers warm and gentle. For just a moment, a look I hadn’t seen before crossed his face. It made him look less like the distracted writer I’d come to know and more… well, male. Admiring. Considering. Maybe even predatory. The look was gone as quickly as it had come, though I still felt taken aback.

“Keep an eye on that strap,” warned Seth mildly. “You’ve got to make him work for it.” He inclined his head slightly toward some dancers, and I followed the motion to see Roman walking one of the baristas through a complex step.

I admired Roman’s graceful moves a moment before turning back to Seth. “It’s not that hard. I can teach you.” I held up a hand by way of invitation.

He looked as though he might agree but shook his head at the last second. “I’d make a fool of myself.”

“Ah yes, and sitting here alone, while everyone else dances and we’re short of men – yes, that doesn’t make you look foolish at all.”

He gave a soft laugh. “Maybe.”

When no other explanation came, I shrugged and returned to the dance floor, continuing my instruction. Cody and I added a couple new tricks, assisted in more practice, and finally stood off to the side admiring our pupils. “Think they’ll be ready for the Moondance ?” he asked.

The Moondance Lounge was a ballroom dance club that hosted monthly swing dance nights. We considered this group’s appearance there to be the ultimate triumph of graduation.

“One more lesson, I think. Then we can take them out in public.”

An arm caught me around the waist, pulling me onto the dance floor. I recovered my footing quickly, falling in step with Roman as he spun me into an intricate turn. A few people nearby stopped to watch.

“It’s my turn to be teacher’s pet,” he admonished. “I’ve hardly seen you all night; I don’t think this counts as a date.”

I let him lead me around flamboyantly, curious as to just how good he really was. “You’re always changing what you want,” I complained. “First you just want to go out, now you say you actually want to be alone with me. You need to pick a story and stick with it. Be more specific.”

“Ah, I see. No one told me that.” He led me into a reverse whip, and I followed through flawlessly, earning a grudging look of approval from him. “I don’t suppose there’s a Georgina Kincaid Instruction Manual around somewhere to help me avoid these embarrassing blunders in the future.”

“We sell them downstairs.”

“Oh yeah?” He began improvising steps now, and I enjoyed the challenge of second-guessing where he would go. “Is there a page on how to woo the fair Georgina?”

“Page? Hell, there’s a whole chapter.”

“Required reading, I’d imagine.”

“Definitely. Hey, thanks for the paint by number.”

“I expect to see that on your wall the next time I’m over.”

“With that horrible Native American stereotype? The next time you see it will be on the ACLU’s hit list.”

He spun me out into a flourish-filled ending, much to the delight of everyone else. They had long since stopped dancing to watch me make a spectacle of myself. I felt slightly self-conscious but shrugged it off, savoring the moment, taking Roman’s hand to bow luridly to my coworkers’ applause.

“Get ready,” I announced, “because that’s going to be next week’s exam.”

Cheers and laughter continued, but as they faded and the group dispersed for the night, Roman persisted in holding on to my hand, his fingers laced with mine. I didn’t mind. We walked around, making small talk and saying goodbyes.

“You want to go get a drink?” he asked me, once we were momentarily alone.

I turned toward him, standing close, studying those gorgeous features. In the now-warmed-up room, I could strongly smell his perspiration mingled with cologne, and it made me want to bury my face in his neck.

“I want to…” I began slowly, wondering if alcohol and raw animal lust would be a wise combination with someone I wanted to avoid sleeping with.

Looking beyond him, I caught Cody’s eye. He was talking earnestly with Seth, which I found odd. Suddenly, I remembered my earlier promise to go meet the vampires at the bar.

“Damn,” I muttered. “I don’t think I can.” Still holding Roman’s hand, I led him over to Cody and Seth. They stopped talking.

“I feel left out,” joked Cody a moment later. “I saw you do some stuff just now that you never taught me.”

“You were supposed to have been doing it for homework.” I cocked my head in consideration. “Have you met Roman, Cody? Or you Seth?” I made quick introductions around, and they all politely shook hands, guy-style.

Once that was done, Roman settled his hand comfortably on my waist. “I’m trying to get Georgina to have a drink with me. But I think she’s playing hard to get.”

Cody smiled. “I don’t think she’s playing.”

I looked apologetically at Roman. “I told Cody I’d meet him and another friend tonight.”

The young vampire made a wave of dismissal. “Forget about it. Go have fun.”

“Yeah, but – ” I cut myself off and made significant eye contact with him §?la Jerome and Carter. I didn’t want Cody to go off alone, lest he be targeted by the vampire hunter, but I could hardly say that in front of the others. “Take a cab,” I said at last. “Don’t walk.”

“Okay,” he said automatically. Too automatically.

“I mean it,” I warned.

“Yes, yes,” he muttered. “Do you want to call it for me?”

I rolled my eyes at him, then suddenly remembered Seth’s presence. Feeling kind of embarrassed with him standing there while we all made plans, I wondered if I should offer to invite him along or send him with Cody.

As though reading my mind, Seth bluntly declared, “Well, I’ll see you guys later.” He turned around and left before any of us could answer.

“Is he mad or something?” asked Cody after a moment.

“I think that’s just the way he is,” I explained, not sure I’d ever understand the writer.

“Weird.” Roman turned back to me. “Ready to step out?”

Seth quickly left my mind. Roman and I walked over to a small restaurant across the street from Emerald City, sitting together on one side of a booth. I ordered my vodka gimlet, and he got brandy.

When our drinks arrived, he asked, “Should I be jealous of anyone back there?”

I chuckled. “You don’t know me well enough or have any claims on me to worry about jealousy yet. Don’t jump the gun here.”

“I suppose not,” he agreed. “Still, famous writers and suave, young dance partners are certainly exalted company.”

“Cody’s not that young.”

“Young enough. Is he a close friend?”

“Close enough. Not romantically close, if that’s what you’re still driving at.” Roman and I had snuggled together in the booth, and I gave him a playful poke in the ribs. “Quit worrying about my acquaintances. Let’s talk about something else. Tell me about the world of linguistics.”

I meant it half-jokingly, but he complied, explaining his specialty – classical languages, ironically enough. Roman knew his material well, speaking about it with the same wit and cleverness used in his flirtations. I followed these explanations avidly, enjoying the opportunity to engage in a topic few others knew anything about. Unfortunately, I had to taper my participation, lest I show just how well versed in the subject I truly was. It might look a little weird if a bookstore manager knew more about an area of study than someone who had made a career out of it.

Throughout this whole gripping discourse, Roman and I stayed in contact – arms, hands, and legs touching. He never tried to kiss me, for which I was grateful, as that would have been walking into dangerous territory. We were really on an ideal date for me: stimulating banter and as much physical contact as a succubus could safely handle. Our flirty conversation flowed effortlessly, like reading from a script.

Our drink flew by in an eye blink, and before I knew it, we stood back outside, parting ways and making arrangements for another date. I attempted my protests, but both of us could see how weak they were. He kept claiming I owed him a real, unchaperoned outing. Standing there with him, warmed by his presence, I felt surprised at how badly I wanted that date. The thing about sparing nice guys was that I always ended up lonely. Looking up at Roman, I decided then that I wanted to put off being lonely again – just for a little while.

So I agreed to go out again, ignoring the mental warning bells this decision set off. His face lit up, and I thought he would definitely try a mouth kiss now. My heart thumped loudly at the prospect, scared and eager.

Apparently my previous neurotic rants about not getting too close hit home, however. He merely held my hand, finally brushing his lips across my cheek in a kiss that was barely a kiss. He wandered off into the streets of Queen Anne, and a moment later, I walked the half-block back to my apartment.

When I reached my door, I discovered a note taped to it. My name, done in beautiful, heavily inked calligraphy, lay scrawled across the surface. An apprehensive coldness ran through me. The note read:

You are a beautiful woman, Georgina. Beautiful enough, I think, to even tempt angels into falling – something that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should anymore. Beauty such as yours is effortless, however, when you can make it anything you like. Your large friend, unfortunately, doesn’t have such luxury, which is a damned shame after what happened today. Fortunately, he works in the right business to correct any damage to his appearance.

I stared at the note like something that might bite me. It bore no name, of course. Ripping it off the door, I hurried into my apartment and picked up the phone. I dialed Hugh’s number without hesitation. With the references to “large” and “right business,” he was the only one the note could be referring to.

His phone rang and rang before giving way to an answering machine. Annoyed, I dialed his cell number.

After three rings, an unknown female voice answered.

“Is Hugh Mitchell there?”

There was a long pause. “He… can’t talk right now. Who is this, please?”

“This is Georgina Kincaid. I’m his friend.”

“I’ve heard him talk about you, Georgina. This is Samantha.”

The name didn’t mean anything to me, nor did I have the patience for this runaround. “Well, can I please talk to him then?”

“No…” Her voice sounded strained, upset. “Georgina, something bad happened today…”

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