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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 11

Hospitals are creepy places, cold and sterile.A true reminder of the tenuous nature of mortality.The thought of Hugh here made me nauseous, but I squelched the feeling as best I could, sprinting through the halls to the room Samantha had named.

When I reached it, I found Hugh lying calmly in a bed, his large body clad in a gown, his skin bruised and bandaged.

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A blond figure sat next to the bed with him, holding his hand. She turned in surprise when I burst into the room.

“Georgina,” Hugh said, giving me a weak smile. “Nice of you to stop by.”

The blond woman, presumably Samantha, studied me uneasily. Slim and doe-eyed, she tightened her grip on Hugh’s hand, and I figured this must be the twenty-year old from work. Her unnatural breasts verified as much.

“It’s all right,” he told her reassuringly. “This is my friend Georgina. Georgina, Samantha.”

“Hi,” I told her, offering my hand. She took it. Hers was cold, and I realized then that her nervousness was not so much at meeting me as general concern over what had happened to Hugh. It was touching.

“Sweetie, would you excuse Georgina and me for a bit? Maybe go get yourself a drink from the cafeteria?” He spoke gently and kindly to her, a tone he rarely used with the rest of us on our pub nights.

Samantha turned to Hugh anxiously. “I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“I won’t be alone. Georgina and I just need to talk. Besides, she’s a, uh, black belt; nothing will happen to me.”

I made a face at him behind her back as she considered. “I suppose that’s all right… you’ll call my cell if you need me, right? I’ll come right back.”

“Of course,” he promised, kissing her hand.

“I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you more.”

She rose, gave me another uncertain look, and retreated out the door.

I watched her go a moment before taking her chair beside Hugh. “Very sweet. I think I’m getting cavities.”

“No need to be bitter. Just because you can’t form meaningful attachments with mortals.”

His jest hurt a lot more than it probably should have, but then, I still had Roman on the brain.

“Besides,” he continued, “she’s a little upset about what happened today.”

“Yeah, I imagine so. Jesus. Look at you.”

I surveyed his wounds in greater detail. Hints of stitches appeared beneath some bandages, and dark blotchy bruises blossomed here and there.

“Could be worse.”

“Could it?” I wondered archly. I’d never seen any immortal sustain so much injury.

“Sure. First, I could be dead, and I’m not. Second, I heal just like you do. You should have seen me this afternoon when they brought me in. The trick now will be to get me out of here before someone notices just how fast I’m recovering.”

“Does Jerome know about this?”

“Of course. I called him earlier, but he’d already felt it. I expect him to show up any time now. Did he call you?”

“Not exactly,” I admitted, hesitant to bring up the note quite yet. “What happened? When you were attacked?”

“I don’t remember a lot of details.” Hugh shrugged slightly, an awkward maneuver for one lying down. I suspected he’d already gone through this story with a number of others. “I stepped out for coffee. I was the only one in the parking lot, and while coming back to my car, this… person, I guess, just jumped out and attacked me. No warning.”

“You guess?”

He frowned. “I never really got a good look. He was big, though, I could peg that much. And strong – really strong. A lot stronger than I would have thought.”

Hugh himself was no weakling. True, he didn’t work out or do much with his body, but he had a big frame and a lot of density to fill that frame out.

“Why did he stop?” I asked. “Did someone find you guys?”

“Nah, I don’t know why he quit. It was all beating and slashing one minute; the next, he’s gone. Took about fifteen minutes before someone else came along and helped me.”

“You keep saying ‘he.’ You think it was a guy?”

He attempted another shrug. “I don’t really know. Just an impression I got. Could have been a hot blonde for all I know.”

“Yeah? Should I question Samantha?”

“You shouldn’t be questioning anyone, according to Jerome. Did you ever talk to Erik?”

“Yeah… he’s looking into some things for me. He also reaffirmed that vampire hunters can’t kill you or me, nor has he ever heard of anything that can.”

Hugh turned thoughtful. “This person didn’t kill me.”

“Do you think he was trying?”

“He was certainly trying to do something. Seems like if he could have killed me, he would have.”

“But he couldn’t,” a voice behind me pointed out, “because, as I’ve said, vampire hunters can only inconvenience you, not kill you.”

I turned, startled at hearing Jerome’s voice. It startled me further to see Carter with him.

“Leave it to Jerome to play devil’s advocate,” joked the angel.

“What are you doing here, Georgina?” demanded the demon icily.

My mouth gaped, and it took me a moment to speak. “How… how did you do that?”

Carter stood there dressed as disreputably as ever. Whereas Doug and Bruce looked like they were in a grunge band, the angel looked like the band had kicked him out. He gave me a lopsided grin. “Do what? Come up with a clever pun referencing Jerome’s demonic status? The truth is, I usually keep a stash of them on hand and – “

“No. Not that. I can’t feel you… can’t sense you…” I could see Carter with my eyes, but I could not feel that powerful signature, aura, or whatever, that normally radiated from an immortal. Turning to Jerome suddenly, I realized he was the same. “Or you. I can’t sense either of you. I couldn’t the other night either.”

Angel and demon exchanged glances over my head. “We can mask it,” said Carter at last.

“What, like a light switch or something? You can turn it on and off?”

“It’s a bit more complicated than that.”

“Well, this is news to me. Can we do it? Hugh and I?”

“No,” both Jerome and Carter answered together. Jerome elaborated, “Only higher immortals can do it.”

Hugh weakly attempted to sit up. “Why… are you doing it?”

“You never answered my question, Georgie,” Jerome pointed out, obviously avoiding the subject. He glanced at the imp. “I told you not to contact the others.”

“I didn’t. She just came.”

Jerome turned his gaze back on me, and I fished the mysterious note out of my purse. I handed it to him, and the demon read it expressionlessly before handing it over to Carter. When the angel finished, he and Jerome looked at each other again in that annoying way of theirs. Jerome deposited the note into an inner pocket of his suit jacket.

“Hey, that’s mine.”

“Not anymore.”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to stick to your party line about this being a vampire hunter,” I shot back.

Jerome’s dark eyes narrowed shrewdly at me. “Why wouldn’t I? This person mistook Hugh for a vampire, but as you’ve already observed, Nancy Drew, Hugh could not be killed.”

“I think this person knew Hugh wasn’t a vampire.”

“Oh? Why do you say that?”

“The note. The person who wrote it mentions my shape-shifting. He knows I’m a succubus. He probably knows Hugh’s an imp.”

“His knowing you’re a succubus explains why he didn’t attack you. He knew he couldn’t kill you. He wasn’t sure about Hugh, however, so he took his chances.”

“With a knife.” Again, I remembered: How do you know if a demon is lying? His lips are moving. “I thought the story was that this was some amateur vampire hunter arbitrarily going after people with a stake because he didn’t know any better. Instead, this person somehow knows about me and took on Hugh with a knife.”

Carter stifled a yawn and joined in on Jerome’s game. “Maybe this person’s learning. You know, expanding their choice of weapons. After all, no one stays an amateur for long. Even new vampire hunters wise up eventually.”

I jumped on the one detail here no one had addressed yet. “And even children know that vampires don’t come out in daylight. What time were you attacked, Hugh?”

A strange look crossed the imp’s face. “Late this afternoon. When the sun was up.”

I looked exultantly at Jerome. “This person knew Hugh wasn’t a vampire.”

Jerome leaned against a wall, appearing unfazed as he picked nonexistent pieces of lint from his slacks. He looked more like John Cusack than ever today. “So? Mortals get delusions of grandeur. He kills one vampire and decides to do his part against the rest of the evil forces inhabiting this city. That changes nothing.”

“I don’t think it was a mortal.”

Both Jerome and Carter, looking at other things in the room, now snapped their heads toward me. “Oh?”

I swallowed, slightly flustered under that scrutiny. “I mean… you guys prove higher immortals can go around without being sensed, and no one’s been able to sense anything from this guy. Plus, look at Hugh’s damage. Erik said mortals can’t really do substantial – ” I bit off my words, realizing my error.

Carter laughed softly.

“Damn it, Georgie.” Jerome straightened like a whip. “I told you to let us handle this. Who else have you talked to?”

Whatever cloaking Jerome had been doing vanished, and I suddenly became aware of the power crackling around him. It reminded me of one of those sci-fi movies when a door opens into outer space, and all the debris gets sucked out as a result of the vacuum. Everything in the room seemed to be drawn into Jerome, toward his swelling power and might. To my immortal perceptions, he became a glowing bonfire of terror and energy.

I cringed against Hugh’s bed, resisting the urge to shade my eyes. The imp put a hand on my arm, though whether it was for my comfort or his own, I didn’t know. “No one. I swear it, no one else. I just asked Erik some questions…”

Carter took a step toward the furious demon, face angelically calm. “Easy there. You’re sending up a beacon to any immortal in a ten-mile radius.”

Jerome’s eyes stayed fixed on me, and I felt true fear for the first time in centuries in the focus of all that intensity. Then, like the light switch I’d joked about earlier, it all vanished. Just like that, Jerome stood before me completely incognito for all arcane intents and purposes. Like a mortal. He exhaled heavily and rubbed a spot between his eyes.

“Georgina,” he said at last. “Contrary to whatever you believe, this is not all some elaborate attempt to vex you. Please stop going against me. We’re doing what we’re doing for a reason. Your best interests really are at heart here.”

My catty nature wanted to ask if demons had hearts, but something else struck me as more pressing. “Why the ‘we’ here? I assume you mean him.” I nodded toward Carter. “What could involve both a demon and an angel and make them skulk around hiding their presence? Are you guys afraid of something?”

“Skulking?” Carter sounded jovially indignant.

“Please, Georgie,” intoned Jerome, patience obviously at a breaking point, “leave well-enough alone. If you really want to do something useful, you will avoid dangerous situations like I advised before. I can’t make you stay in protected company, but if you persist in being a nuisance otherwise, I can find a convenient place to stash you until this all blows over. This is not about anyone’s ‘side,’ and you only run the risk of muddling up matters you don’t understand.”

I unconsciously squeezed Hugh’s hand for support. I did not want to think about what sort of “convenient place” Jerome had in mind.

“Do we understand each other?” the demon asked softly.

I nodded.

“Good. You will be of most assistance to me by keeping yourself safe. I have too many things to worry about now without adding you to the list.”

I nodded again, not trusting myself to speak. His small display had had its intended effect on temporarily cowing me, though some niggling part of me knew I would be unable to “leave well-enough alone” once I walked out of here. It would be best to keep that knowledge to myself.

“That will be all, Georgie,” Jerome added. I heard the dismissal.

“I’ll walk you out,” offered Carter.

“No thanks.” But the angel followed in my wake anyway.

“So how’d it go with Seth Mortensen?”

“Okay.”

“Just okay?”

“Just okay.”

“I hear he’s living here now. And spends a lot of time at Emerald City.”

I eyed him askance. “Where’d you hear that?”

He only grinned. “So? Tell me about it.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” I snapped, uncertain why I was even discussing this. “I’ve talked to him a few times, toured him around. We don’t really click. We can’t communicate.”

“Why not?” Carter wanted to know.

“He’s a hardcore introvert. Doesn’t talk much. Just watches. Besides, I don’t want to encourage him.”

“So you’re increasing his silence.”

I shrugged and pushed the button for an elevator.

“I think I know a book that might help you. I’ll dig it out and let you borrow it.”

“No thanks.”

“Don’t knock it. It’ll improve your communication skills with Seth. I saw it on a talk show.”

“Aren’t you listening? I don’t want to improve things.”

“Ah,” said Carter sagely. “You don’t go for introverts.”

“I – no, that’s not it. I don’t have a problem with introverts. “

“Then why don’t you like Seth?”

“I do like him! Damn it, stop this.”

The angel quirked me a grin. “It’s all right to feel that way. I mean, past evidence shows you tend to go for showy, flirty guys anyway.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I immediately thought of my attraction to Roman.

Carter’s eyes flashed mischievously. We were at the hospital’s exit now. “I don’t know. You tell me, Letha.”

I had nearly walked out the door, but his comment jerked me back. I spun around so fast, my hair whipped around and hit me in the face. “Where did you hear that name?”

“I have my sources.”

A great nebulous emotion swelled up in my chest, something I couldn’t entirely identify. It fell somewhere on the continuum of hate and despair, not really subscribing to either one. Hotter and hotter it grew within me, making me want to scream at Carter and that smug, knowing look on his face. I wanted to beat my fists against him or shape-shift into something horrific. I didn’t know where he’d learned that name, but it woke up some sort of sleeping monster within me, something that had been tightly coiled up.

He continued watching me coolly, undoubtedly reading my thoughts.

Slowly, I became aware of my surroundings. The chilly corridors. The anxious visitors. The efficient staff. I calmed my breathing and fixed the angel with a scathing look.

“Don’t you ever call me that again. Ever.”

He shrugged, still smiling. “My mistake.”

I turned smartly on my heels and left him there. I stormed out to my car and didn’t even realize I was driving until I was halfway across the bridge, tears leaking from the corners of my eyes.

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