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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 14

“You called us together for biblical porn?”

Hugh turned away with disinterest from where the vampires and I huddled around my kitchen table.Barely a bruise showed on him anymore.Putting a cigarette to his lips, the imp produced a lighter from his coat pocket.

“Don’t smoke in here,” I warned.

“What do you care? Are you saying you didn’t smoke throughout most of the twentieth century?”

“I’m not saying that at all.

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But I don’t do it anymore. Besides, it’s bad for Aubrey.”

The cat, sitting on one of my counters, paused mid-bath at the sound of her name and eyed him askance. Hugh, glaring back, took a long drag on the cigarette before putting it out on the countertop next to her. She returned to her cleaning, and he paced around the apartment.

Beside me, Cody leaned over the table, studying my proffered Bible. “I don’t get how these guys are actually angels. ‘Sons of God’ seems like a generic term for humans. I mean, aren’t we all supposed to be children of God?”

“Present company excluded, of course,” called Hugh from the living room. Then: “Jesus Christ! Where’d you get this bookcase? Hiroshima?”

“Theoretically we are,” I agreed, ignoring the imp and answering Cody’s question. I’d done a lot of biblical perusal since my earlier discovery today and was growing tired of looking at the book. “But Warren’s right – that term is used throughout to refer to angels. Plus, the women here aren’t called ‘daughters of God.’ They’re called ‘daughters of men.’ They’re human, their husbands are not.”

“Could just be good old-fashioned sexism.” Peter had finally taken the plunge and shaved his hair off. I did not find the look flattering at all, considering the shape of his head. “It’s not like that’d be a new concept in the Bible.”

“Nah, I think Georgina’s right,” said Hugh, returning to us. “I mean, we know something made angels fall. Lust is as good a reason as any, and it beats the hell out of gluttony or sloth.”

“So what’s the point then?” Peter wanted to know. “How does this relate to the not-just-a-vampire hunter?”

“Here.” I pointed to verse 6:4. “It says, ‘There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.’ The key words here are ‘in those days’ and ‘also after that.’ It’s saying angels have fallen for human women more than once. This answers our question about whether angels still fall anymore. They do.”

Cody was nodding along with me. “Which backs up your theory that one is trying to fall right now.”

“It doesn’t sound like lust is going to be his catalyst, though,” Hugh noted. “I think assault and battery will do it first.”

“Unless it’s lust for Georgina,” suggested Peter dryly. “He seems to think you’re pretty enough.”

Something odd struck me at Hugh’s observation. “Would assault and battery really do it, though? Especially of vampires and imps? It might be frowned upon by the other side, but I’m not convinced taking out evil agents would necessarily warrant an angel turning into a demon.”

“Past evidence suggests the other side isn’t exactly… flexible with transgressors,” observed the imp.

“And ours is?” wondered Peter.

Cody gave me a sharp look. “Are you backing out of your own theory?”

“No, no. I’m suddenly reconsidering the falling bit, that’s all. The ‘rogue’ or ‘renegade’ part might be more accurate.”

“But your note did mention angels falling,” Hugh pointed out. “Surely that’s indicative of something? A meaningful clue and not just a bad attempt at humor?”

I thought about the note. Yes, Hugh was right. I felt certain the note’s content played a role here; I just couldn’t yet grasp what it meant.

“Bad humor is par for the course with angels,” Peter reminded us. “At least if Carter’s any indication.”

I hesitated a moment, nervous about bringing up my secondary theory. They all seemed to be going along with the angel idea, however, so I figured it was now or never.

“Do you guys think… do you think it’s possible Carter might be the one behind all of this?”

Three sets of eyes turned on me in astonishment.

Hugh spoke first. “What? Are you crazy? I know you two spar a lot, but Christ, if you think…”

“Carter’s one of us,” agreed Cody fiercely.

“I know, I know.” I proceeded to explain the reasoning behind my accusation, citing his weird shadowing of me and subsequent conversation at Erik’s.

Silence fell. Finally, Peter said, “All of that is strange. But I still can’t buy it. Not Carter.”

“Not Carter,” agreed Hugh.

“Oh, I see. Everyone’s quick to implicate me for Duane, but not perfect Carter?” My ire rose at their automatic solidarity, at the idea that Carter would be above reproach. “Why does he hang out with us then? Have you ever heard of an angel doing anything like that?”

“We’re his friends,” said Cody.

“And we’re more fun,” added Hugh.

“You can believe that if you want, but not me. Going from pub to pub with a demon and his cronies is the perfect setup for sabotage. He’s been spying on us. You’re just biased because he’s such a good drinking buddy.”

“And don’t you think, Georgina,” warned Peter, “there’s just the slightest possibility that you’re the one who’s biased? I admit, this crazy angel theory makes more and more sense as time goes on, but where’d Carter come from?”

“Yeah,” said Hugh. “Seems like you just sort of threw him in for no good reason. Everyone knows you two don’t get along.”

I stared disbelievingly at the three sets of angry eyes. “I have plenty of good reason. How do you explain him being at Erik’s?”

The imp shook his head. “We all know Erik. Carter could have been there for the same reasons you were.”

“What about the things he said?”

“What did he say really?” Peter asked. “Was he like, ‘Hey Georgina, hope you got my note’? It’s all pretty flimsy.”

“Look, I’m not saying I have strong evidence, just that circumstantially – “

“I need to go,” interjected Cody, standing up.

I gave him a cold look. Had I pushed them that far? “I understand if you don’t agree with me, but don’t just walk out.”

“No, there’s something I’ve got to do.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “You’re not the only one dating now, Georgina. Cody won’t admit it, but I think he’s got a woman stashed somewhere.”

“A live one?” asked Hugh, impressed.

Cody put his coat on. “You guys don’t know anything.”

“Well, be careful,” I warned automatically.

The tense mood was suddenly shattered, and no one seemed to be angry with me about suspecting Carter anymore. It was clear, however, that no one believed me about him either. They were dismissing my ideas like one does a child’s irrational fears or imaginary friends.

The vampires left together, and Hugh followed soon thereafter. I wandered off to bed, still trying to put the pieces into place. The note writer had made a reference to angels falling for beautiful women; that had to be significant. Yet, I just couldn’t reconcile it with this bizarre pair of attacks on Duane and Hugh, which had more to do with violence and brutality than beauty or lust.

When I got to work the next day, my e-mail inbox revealed a new message from Seth, and I feared some sort of follow-up to his date request from yesterday. Instead, he merely responded to my last message, which had been one in an ongoing conversation about his observations of the Northwest. The message’s writing style and voice were as entertaining as ever, and he seemed for all the world not to have minded – or even noticed – my wacky rejection yesterday.

I verified this further when I went upstairs to buy coffee. Seth sat in his usual corner, typing away, oblivious to it being Saturday. I paused and said hello, getting a typically distracted response in return. He did not mention asking me to the party, did not seem upset, and indeed apparently didn’t care at all about it. I supposed I should have been grateful that he’d recovered so quickly, that he wasn’t pining or breaking his heart over me, but my selfishness couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. I wouldn’t have minded making a slightly stronger impression on him, one that elicited some regret over my refusal. Doug and Roman, for example, hadn’t let one rejection deter them. What a fickle creature I was.

Thinking of both of them reminded me I was meeting Roman later to go to Doug’s concert. I grew heady at the thought of seeing Roman again, though apprehension tinged the feeling. I didn’t like him having this effect on me, and I had thus far demonstrated no aptitude in refusing his advances. We were going to reach a critical point one of these days, and I feared for its outcome. I suspected that when it did come, I would wish Roman had bowed out of my pursuit so easily as Seth seemed to have.

Such worries vanished from my mind that evening when I admitted Roman into my apartment. He wore dress clothing all done in elegant shades of blue and silvery gray, every hair and fold perfectly in place. He flashed me one of those devastating smiles, and I made sure my knees didn’t start knocking, schoolgirl style.

“You do realize this is a post-grunge, punk rock, ska -type of concert we’re going to. Most everyone else will be in jeans and T-shirts. Maybe some leather here and there.”

“Most good dates do end in leather.” His eyes took in the sights of the apartment, lingering briefly on the bookcase. “But didn’t you say this was a late show?”

“Yup. Starts at eleven.”

“That gives us four hours to burn, love. You’re going to have to change.”

I looked down at my black jeans and red tank top. “This won’t work?”

“That does wonderful things for your legs, I admit, but I think you’re going to want a skirt or dress. Something like you wore swing dancing, only maybe… steamier.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard the word ‘steamy’ applied to any of my wardrobe.”

“I find that hard to believe.” He pointed down my hall. “Go. The clock is ticking.”

Ten minutes later I returned in a clingy, navy dress made of georgette. It had spaghetti straps and an asymmetrical hemline, jagged and ruffled, that rose high on my left leg. I had taken my hair out of its ponytail and now wore it long over my shoulders.

Roman looked up from where he’d been having meaningful, eye-to-eye communication with Aubrey. “Steamy.” He pointed to the King James Bible sitting on my coffee table. It was open, like he’d been perusing. “I never took you for the churchgoing type.”

Both Seth and Warren had made similar jokes. That thing was ruining my reputation.

“Just something I’m researching. It’s only been moderately useful.”

Roman stood up and stretched. “Probably because that’s one of the worst translations out there.”

I remembered the plethora of Bibles. “Is there a better one you’d recommend?”

He shrugged. “I’m no expert, but you’d probably get more out of one meant for research, not devotional use. Annotated ones. Ones that they use in college classes.”

I filed the information away, wondering if the mystery verses might still have more to reveal. For now, I had a date to contend with.

We ended up at a small, hidden Mexican restaurant I’d never been to. The waiters spoke Spanish – as did Roman, it turned out – and the food had not been watered down for Americans. When two margaritas appeared on our table, I realized Roman had ordered one for me.

“I don’t want to drink tonight.” I recalled how flaky I’d been the last time we went out.

He stared at me like I’d just declared I was going to stop breathing for a change. “You have to be kidding. This place makes the best margaritas north of the Rio Grande.”

“I want to stay sober tonight.”

“One won’t kill you. Take it with food, and you won’t even notice.” I stayed silent. “For Christ’s sake, Georgina, just try the salt. One taste and you’ll be hooked.”

I reluctantly ran my tongue around the edge. It triggered a longing to taste tequila that rivaled my succubus urge for sex. Giving in against my better judgment, I took a sip. It was fantastic.

The food was too, not surprisingly, and I ended up having two margaritas, instead of just the one. Roman proved to be right about drinking with food, fortunately, and I only felt mildly buzzed. I did not feel out of control and knew I could handle things until the sobering up began.

“Two more hours,” I told him as we left the restaurant. “Got something else in mind?”

“Sure do.” He inclined his head across the street, and I followed his motion. Miguel’s.

I racked my brain. “I’ve heard of that place… wait, they do salsa dancing there, don’t they?”

“Yup. Ever tried it?”

“No.”

“What? I thought you were a dancing queen.”

“I’m not done with swing yet.”

Truthfully, I was dying to try salsa. Like Seth Mortensen’s books, though, I did not like to burn through too much of a good thing too fast. I still enjoyed swing and wanted to run it into the ground before I switched dances. Long life tended to make one savor things more.

“Well, now you’ll just have to multitask.” Taking my hand, he led me across the street.

I tried to protest but couldn’t really explain my reasoning to him, and so, like the margaritas, I gave in fairly easily.

The club was warm and packed with bodies, and the music was to die for. My feet immediately began counting out beats as Roman paid our entrance fee and led me to the dance floor. Just like with swing, he turned out to be an expert at salsa, and I found myself easily catching on after a few practices. I might not have demonstrated much talent for standing my ground against margaritas, but I had been dancing for centuries. The skill was fused into me.

Salsa turned out to be a lot sexier than swing. Not that swing wasn’t sexy, mind you, but salsa had a dark, sinuous edge about it. One couldn’t help but focus on the closeness of the other person’s body, the way hips moved together. I now knew what Roman had meant about steamy.

After about a half hour, we took a break, and he led us to the bar. ” Mojitosnow,” he told me, holding up two fingers for the bartender. “In keeping with our Latin theme tonight.”

“I can’t…”

But the mojitos appeared without my counsel and turned out to be pretty damned good. We finished them faster than we should have, so we could get back out on the floor.

By the time we had to leave for Doug’s concert, post-grunge, punk rock, ska -type music didn’t sound so good anymore. I was exhilarated from dancing, hot and sweaty, and I’d gone through another mojito and a tequila chaser. I knew I’d found a new passion in salsa and silently cursed Roman for what would probably become a dancing addiction, even though I had exalted in the movement. His body had moved with a seductive grace, brushing against mine in a way that left me quivering and aching.

We stumbled out into the street, holding hands, breathless and laughing. The world spun around me slightly, and I decided it was probably just as well we’d left when we did. My motor controls had stopped operating at normal levels.

“Okay, where’d we park?”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I told him, jerking him around the corner where I could see the soft glow of a yellow taxi. “We have to take a cab.”

“Come on, I’m not that bad.”

But he had the wisdom to protest no further, and we caught the taxi up to the brewery in Greenlake. People milled in and out of the building; there had been two other performances before Doug’s. As I had feared, our posh dancing clothing looked hopelessly out of place among the rough and tumble ware of the college-aged, but it no longer seemed the big deal it had when Roman picked me up.

“Don’t get caught up in fashion games,” he advised as we squeezed our way inside the packed brewery. “These kids probably think we’re old, nark conformists or something, but really, they’re just conforming in their own ways. They’re conforming to nonconformity.”

I scanned for the bookstore crew, hoping they’d secured a table. “Oh no. You don’t wax political when you’re drunk, do you?”

“No, no. I just get tired of people always trying to fit a mold, trying to toe some line, regardless if it’s right or left. I’m proud to be the best-dressed person in this room. Make your own rules, that’s what I say.”

I spotted Beth and dragged Roman over to a table on the other side of the room. Other bookstore natives sat with her: Casey, Andy, Bruce – and Seth. My stomach sank.

“Nice dress,” said Bruce.

“We saved you a seat.” Casey indicated a chair. “I didn’t realize you’d have a… friend.”

The chair situation held little concern for me. All I could feel were Seth’s eyes on me, his face thoughtful but neutral. Flushing, I felt like a complete idiot and wished I could just turn around and leave. After refusing him with my stupid tirade about not dating, here I was, hand in hand, drunk off my ass with Roman. I couldn’t even imagine what Seth must think of me now.

“Not a problem,” Roman declared, oblivious to my churning emotions and unfazed by my colleagues’ bemused attention. He sat down in the chair, pulling me onto his lap. “We’ll share.”

Andy made a bar run, bringing back beers for all of us except Seth who, just like with caffeine, chose to abstain. Roman and I explained where we’d been, lauding salsa as the world’s new greatest pastime, thus earning demands from the others that I start up a second wave of dance lessons.

Doug’s group soon came on stage, and we all cheered appropriately at the sight of Doug-the-assistant-manager turned Doug-the-lead-singer of Nocturnal Admission. Beer kept coming, and while continuing to drink was probably the stupidest thing I could have done, I was beyond the point where I could reasonably stop. Besides, I had too many other things to worry about. Like avoiding eye contact with a thus-far-silent Seth. And savoring the feel of being on top of Roman, his chest against my back and arms around my waist. His chin rested on my shoulder, giving him easy access to whisper in my ear and occasionally run his lips by my neck. The hardness I felt underneath my thighs suggested I wasn’t the only one getting something out of this seating arrangement.

Doug came to talk to us during a break, covered in sweat but thoroughly ecstatic. He took in the sight of me plastered on Roman. “You’re a little overdressed, aren’t you, Kin- caid?” He reconsidered. “Or under. Hard to say.”

“You’re one to talk,” I shot back, finishing my… second… or was it third… beer.

Doug wore tight, red vinyl pants; combat boots; and a long, purple velvet jacket left open to expose his chest. A ragged top hat perched jauntily on his head.

“I’m part of the entertainment, babe.”

“So am I, babe.”

Some of the others chuckled. Doug’s expression turned disapproving, but he said nothing to me, instead making some comment to Beth about the number of people who had turned out for the show.

I entered that weird sort of tunnel vision that occurs sometimes with alcohol, where I became so consumed with my own buzzing, swirling perceptions that the conversation and noise around me blurred to an indistinct drone, and faces and colors faded out to an irrelevant background separate from my existence. Indeed, all I really felt was Roman. Every nerve in me was screaming, and I wished the hands he rested on my stomach would slide up to touch my breasts. I could already feel my nipples hardening under the thin fabric and wondered what it’d be like to turn around and ride him like I had Warren…

“Restroom,” I suddenly exclaimed, clambering ungracefully off Roman. It was weird how one’s bladder could turn from tolerable to unbearable so quickly. “Where’s the restroom here?”

The others looked at me strangely, or so it seemed to me. “Back there,” pointed Casey, her voice sounding far away despite her close proximity. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” I pushed a slipping strap up. “I just need to use the restroom.” And get away from Roman, I silently added, so I can think about things clearly. Not that that last feat would probably be possible in my current state.

Roman started to rise, as drunk and fumbling as me. “I’ll go with you – “

“I will,” offered Doug hastily. “I need to get back there anyway before the next set.”

Taking my arm, he wound us through the people toward a less-populated back hallway. I staggered slightly as we went, and he slowed his pace to help.

“How much have you had to drink?”

“Before or after I got here?”

“Holy shit. You are trashed.”

“You got a problem with it?”

“Hardly. How do you think I spend most of my nights off?”

We paused outside the ladies’ restroom. “I bet Seth thinks I’m a lush.”

“Why would he think that?”

“You don’t see him drinking. He’s such a fucking purist. Him and his stupid no caffeine and no alcohol shit.”

Doug’s dark eyes flickered in surprise at my language. “Not all nondrinkers despise drinkers, you know. Besides, Seth’s not the one I’m worried about. I’m more concerned about Mr. Happy Hands out there.”

I blinked, confused. Then: “You mean Roman?”

“You’ve come a long way from refusing to date to practically making out in public.”

“So?” I countered hotly. “Can’t I be with someone? Aren’t I entitled to do something for a change that’s actually something I want to do, not something I have to do?” My words came out with more bitter truth – and volume – than I intended.

“Of course,” he soothed, “but you aren’t yourself tonight. You’re going to do something stupid if you’re not careful. Something you’ll regret later. You should ask Casey or Beth to take you home – “

“Oh, you’re a piece of work,” I exclaimed. I knew I was being irrational, that I’d never have turned on Doug sober, but I couldn’t stop. “Just because I won’t go out with you, just because I choose to fuck Warren or someone else, then you have to step in and try to keep me pure and untouched. If you can’t have me, then no one can, is that it?”

Doug blanched, and a few passersby stared at us. “Christ, Georgina, no – “

“You’re such a fucking hypocrite,” I yelled at him. “You have no right to tell me what to do! No fucking right.”

“I’m not, I – “

I didn’t listen to what else he had to say. Turning, I stormed into the ladies’ restroom, the only place I could go to escape these men. When I’d finished and gone to wash my hands, I looked up in the mirror. Did I look trashed? My cheeks were pink, some of the waves in my hair a little limper than when I’d started the evening. And I was sweating. Not too trashed, I decided. I could be a lot worse.

I felt hesitant to leave the restroom, fearing Doug waited for me. I didn’t want to talk to him. Another woman came in with a lit cigarette, and I bummed one off her, smoking it in its entirety while I crouched in a corner to kill time. When I heard the band kick up again, I knew it was safe.

I walked out of the restroom and ran straight into Roman.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his hands catching me around the waist to steady me. “I was worried when you didn’t come back.”

“Yeah… I’m fine… er, no, I don’t know,” I admitted, leaning into him, wrapping my arms around him. “I don’t know what’s going on. I feel so strange.”

“It’s all right,” he told me, patting my back. “Everything’s going to be all right. Do you need to leave? Is there anything I can do?”

“I… don’t know…” I pulled away slightly, looking up into his eyes. Those blue-green depths were drowning me, and suddenly, I didn’t care.

I don’t know who started it – it could have been either of us – but suddenly we were kissing, there in the middle of the hallway, arms pulling each other tighter, lips and tongues working furiously. The alcohol enhanced my base physical response yet numbed my awareness of succubus energy absorption. It must have still been working in spite of my inability to sense it, however, because Roman abruptly pulled away from me, looking aghast.

“Weird…” He put a hand to his forehead. “I feel… dizzy all of a sudden.” He hesitated a moment then shook it off, pulling me toward him again. Just like all the others. They never caught on that it was me doing it, me hurting them, so they still came back for more.

His pause had been what I needed to gain some tiny sense of clarity in my drunken cloud. What had I done? What had I let myself become tonight? Every interaction with Roman had pushed me past another boundary. First I’d said we wouldn’t date. Then I’d confined us to limited dates. Tonight I’d sworn I wouldn’t drink, and now I could barely stand up from all the booze. Kissing was another taboo I had just broken. And it would only lead to the inevitable…

In my mind’s eye, I could see us after sex. Roman would sprawl, pale and exhausted, drained of his life. That energy would crackle through me like an electric current, and he would stare at me, weak and confused, unable to comprehend what he no longer had. Depending on how much I stole from him, he would lose years off his life. Some sloppy succubi had even been known to kill victims by drinking too much life too fast.

“No… no… don’t.”

I pushed him away, unwilling to see that future realized, but his arm still held me. Looking beyond him, I suddenly caught sight of Seth coming down the hallway. He froze when he saw us, but I was too preoccupied to pay any attention to the writer.

I was a hair’s breath away from kissing Roman again, from taking him somewhere – anywhere – where we could be alone and naked, where I could do all the things I’d fantasized doing with him. Another kiss… another kiss, and I would not be able to stop. I wanted it too much. I wanted to be with someone I wanted. Just once after all these years.

And that was exactly why I couldn’t do it.

“Georgina…” began Roman confusedly, hands still on me.

“Please,” I begged, my voice a whisper, “let me go. Please let me go. You have to let me go.”

“What’s wrong? I don’t understand.”

“Please let me go,” I repeated. “Let me go!” The sudden volume of my own voice startled me, giving me a small boost of will to break from his grasp. He reached toward me, saying my name, but I stepped back. I sounded hysterical, like a crazy woman, and Roman was looking at me rightfully so. “Don’t touch me. Don’t. Touch. Me!”

My anger was more at myself, at my life, than it was at him. A terrible rage and frustration, amplified by alcohol, coursed through me at the universe. The world wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that some people had perfect lives. That beautiful civilizations should fall to dust. That babies should be born with only a handful of breaths. That I should be trapped in this cruel joke of an existence. An eternity of making love without love.

“Georgina…”

“Don’t touch me. Ever again. Please,” I whispered hoarsely, and then, I did the only thing left to me. Escape. I ran. I turned from him and ran down the hall, away from Roman, away from Seth, away from the main seating area. I didn’t know where I was going, but it would keep me safe. Would keep Roman safe. I might not be able to heal my own pain, but I could prevent any more from coming to him.

My poor coordination and desperation made me run into people who responded with varying degrees of politeness to my mania. Was Roman behind me? I didn’t know. He’d drunk at least as much as I had; his coordination couldn’t be any better. If I could just be alone, I could shape-shift or go invisible and get out of here…

I burst through a door, and a wave of cool night air suddenly engulfed me. Gasping, I looked around. I stood in the back parking lot. It was packed with cars, and a few people smoking pot lingered around, most not paying attention to me. The door I’d come through opened, and I turned, expecting Roman. Instead, I saw Seth, looking anxious.

“Stay away from me,” I warned.

He held up his hands, palms forward in an appeasing gesture as he approached me slowly. “Are you okay?”

I took two steps back, fumbling for my purse. “I’m fine. I just have to… have to get away from here… get away from him.” I pulled out my cell phone, intending to call one of the vampires. It slipped from my hands, dodged my attempts to catch it, and hit the asphalt with a sickening crack. “Oh shit.”

Kneeling down, I picked up the phone, looking with dismay at the gibberish on the display. “Shit,” I repeated.

Seth knelt by me. “What can I do?”

I looked up at him, his face swimming in my blurred vision. “I have to get out of here. I have to get away from him.”

“Okay. Come on. I’ll take you home.”

Seth took my arm, and I had a faint recollection of being led a few blocks to some dark-colored car. He helped me inside and drove away. Leaning back, I sank into the motion of the drive, letting it pull me under, the backward and forward of inertia, backward and forward, backward and forward…

“Pullover.”

“What?”

“Pull over now!”

He complied, and I opened the door, expelling the contents of my stomach onto the street outside. When I had finished, Seth waited a moment before asking, “Are you okay to keep going?”

“Yeah.”

But a few minutes later, I made him pull over and repeated the process.

“This… car ride is killing me,” I gasped once we were on the road again. “I can’t stay in the car. The motion…”

Seth’s brow furrowed, and he suddenly made a hard right that nearly set me to throwing up inside the car. “Sorry,” he said.

We drove a few more minutes, and I was on the verge of asking him to pull over again when the car stopped. He helped me out, and I looked around, not recognizing the building in front of us. “Where are we?”

“My place.”

He ushered me inside, straight to a bathroom where I promptly knelt and paid homage to the toilet, again releasing more liquid than I had realized was in me. I felt distantly aware of Seth behind me, pulling my hair out of the way. Dimly, I remembered that higher immortals like Jerome and Carter could be affected by alcohol as little or as much as they liked, choosing to sober up at will. Bastards.

I don’t know how long I knelt there before Seth gently helped me to my feet. “Can you stand?”

“I think so.”

“It’s… uh… in your hair and on your dress. I think you’ll want to change.”

I looked down at the navy georgette and sighed. “Steamy.”

“What?”

“Never mind.” I started pulling the straps down so I could get out of the dress. His eyebrows rose, and he hastily turned away.

“What are you doing?” he asked in a forcibly normal voice.

“I need to shower.”

Naked, I stumbled over and turned on the water. Seth, still not looking at me, retreated to the door. “You won’t fall or anything?”

“I hope not.”

I stepped into the water, gasping at its heat. I leaned against the tiled wall and just let the heavy stream power-wash me, the shock momentarily rousing my wits. Looking up, I saw that Seth was gone, the bathroom door closed. I sighed and shut my eyes, wanting to sink to my knees and pass out. Standing there, I thought again about Roman, about how good it had felt to kiss him. I didn’t know what he would think of me now, not after how I’d acted.

When I turned off the water and stepped out, the bathroom door opened a crack. “Georgina? Use these.”

A towel and an oversize T-shirt were tossed through before the door closed again. I dried myself off and put on the shirt. It was red and had a picture of Black Sabbath on it. Nice.

The activity took its toll, however, and a wave of nausea rolled over me again. “No,” I moaned, making for the toilet.

The door opened. “Are you okay?” Seth came in and pulled my hair back once more.

I waited but nothing came. Finally, I stood uneasily. “I’m all right. I need to lie down.”

He led me out of the bathroom and into a bedroom with an unmade queen-sized bed. I collapsed onto it, pleased to be flat and stationary, even though the room continued to spin. He sat down gingerly on the bed’s edge, watching me uncertainly.

“I’m sorry about this,” I told him. “Sorry you had to… do all this.”

“It’s okay.”

I closed my eyes. “Relationships suck. This is why I don’t date. You just hurt people.”

“Most good things come with the risk of something bad,” he observed philosophically.

I remembered the letter he’d sent me, about the long-term girlfriend he’d neglected for his writing. “Would you do it again?” I asked. “Go out with that one girl? Even if you knew things would turn out exactly the same?”

A pause. “Yes.”

“Not me.”

“Not me what?”

I opened my eyes and looked up at him. “I was married once.” It was the kind of drunken admission one made fully aware that it would never have been spoken sober. “Did you know that?”

“No.”

“No one does.”

“It didn’t work out then?” Seth asked when I didn’t say anything for a minute.

I couldn’t help a bitter laugh. Didn’t work out? That was an understatement. I had been weak and foolish, giving into the same physical urges that had nearly led me into disaster with Roman. Only with Ariston, I couldn’t claim drunkenness for that slip. I had been dead sober, and honestly, I think I’d been planning it for a long time anyway. We both had.

He’d come over one day for another visit, only this time we didn’t talk much. I think we were past conversation by then. We’d both been restless, pacing and standing, making small talk that neither of us really listened to. My attention was on his physical presence – on his body and the powerful muscles in his arms and legs. The air was so thick with sexual tension it was a wonder we could move at all.

I walked to the window, staring at nothing as I listened to him pacing the rest of the house. A moment later he returned, this time standing behind me. His hands suddenly rested on my shoulders, the first deliberate touch he’d ever made. His fingers burned me like a brand, and I shivered, making his hold tighten as he stepped closer to me.

“Letha,” he said in my ear, “you know… you know I think about you all the time. I think about what it would be like to… be with you.”

“You’re with me now.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

He turned me around to face him, and his gaze was like hot oil running over my body, slick and scorching. Trailing his hands up my neck, he cupped my face for a moment. He leaned down and held his mouth a breath away from mine. Then, his tongue darted out and lightly ran over my lips, the barest of caresses. My lips parted, and I leaned forward to take more, but he stepped away with a small smile. One of his hands moved down to my shoulder, to the clasp that held my gown together, and unfastened it. The fabric slid off me, pooling around me on the floor, so I stood naked before him.

His eyes blazed, taking in every part. I should have felt embarrassed or shy, but I didn’t. I felt wonderful. Desired. Adored. Wanted. Powerful.

“I would do anything, anything at all to have you right now,” he whispered. His hands traveled down my shoulders to the sides of my breasts, to my waist, and then my hips. My mother had always said my hips were too skinny, but under his hands, they felt lush and sexy. “I would kill for you. I would go to the ends of the earth for you. I would do anything at all that you ask. Anything just to feel your body against mine and your legs wrapped around me.”

“No one’s ever said anything like that to me.” I was surprised at how calmly my voice came out. Inside, I was melting. I would hear variations of his promises for the next millennium or so, from a hundred different men, but at the time, the words were fresh and new.

Ariston’slips turned up in a rueful smile. ” Kyriakosmust say things like that all the time.” There was an arch tone to his voice, reminding me that even though the two men were longtime friends, there had always been a rivalry underscoring that friendship.

“No. He makes love to me with his eyes.”

“I want to use a lot more than my eyes.”

In that moment, I suddenly understood the power women had over men. It was surprising and exhilarating. Never mind issues of property and politics; it was in the bedroom that women ruled. With flesh and sheets and sweat. The knowledge filled me, rushing through me with an arousal stronger than any aphrodisiac could produce. I thrived on it, liking this newfound clout. I think it was this revelation that would later make the powers of hell cast me as a succubus.

I reached out trembling hands to him and began removing his tunic. He stood still as I undressed him, but every inch of him quivered with heat and longing. His breathing came heavy and fast as I studied his body now, noticing all the ways it was the same as Kyriakos ‘ and all the ways it was different. I moved my fingertips over him, lightly touching the tanned flesh, the well-defined muscles, the nipples. Then my hands moved lower, below his stomach, wrapping around the long, hard length they found there. Ariston emitted a soft groan but did not move toward me yet. He was still waiting for my consent.

I raised my eyes from my fondling hands and looked into his face. He really would have done anything for me. That awareness increased my need for him.

“You can do anything you want to me,” I told him finally.

I made it sound like a concession, but truthfully, I wanted him to do anything he wanted. My words broke the spell that had been holding us apart. It was like a damn bursting. Like exhaling after holding your breath for too long. A rush. A release. My body nearly tumbled into his, like it had been straining and straining at bindings that had finally been cut. Touching him made me realize we should have been touching long before this.

He jerked me into a harsh kiss, jamming his tongue into my mouth as his hands moved under me to grab the backs of my thighs. In one motion, he hoisted me up and pressed my back against the wall. My legs wrapped around his hips, needing him closer to me, and then with one hard thrust, he was inside. I don’t know if I was too tight or he was too big – maybe both – but it hurt in a sort of pleasurable way. I let out a surprised cry, but he didn’t stop to see if I was okay. The passion had seized him, that animalistic urge locked deep into our blood that ensures the continuation of our species. He focused only on his own pleasure now as he pushed into me, over and over, harder and harder, seeming to thrive on every moan and scream that crossed my lips. I wouldn’t have thought I could find release in such rough sex, but I did – more than once. Each time, it came as a great, consuming wave of sensation, starting deep within me and spreading throughout my body, rubbing every nerve, covering every piece of me until I was completely saturated. Then the wave would explode into glittering fragments, leaving me warm and tender and breathless. Like being shattered then remade. It was exquisite. Each of these orgasms seemed to drive him more urgently until his own climax came. This time, I was the one thriving on his release, digging my nails into his back as tightly as I could, holding on to him, bringing the episode to a shuddering, gasping end.

And yet, it wasn’t the end because in only a little while, he was ready again. He took me to my bed and this time put me on my knees, leaning into me from behind. “I’ve heard the old women say this is the best position for conceiving a child,” he whispered.

I had only a moment to ponder this before he was in me again, still rough and demanding. I considered his words as he pumped away, that maybe he would be the one who gave me a child after all, not Kyriakos. The realization made me feel strange, eager yet regretful.

Aristonfelt no such regret when we lay back on the blankets later in the afternoon, both of us exhausted and spent as warm sun spilled in over us through the window.

“The lack could be in Kyriakos,” he explained. “Not you. With as many times as I’ve had you today, you can’t help but get pregnant.” He sucked my earlobe and wrapped his arms around me from behind, letting his hands rest on my breasts. “I’ve filled you up, Letha.”

His voice was low and proprietary, like he’d just gained something more tangible than sex. Suddenly I wondered who really did have the power in the bedroom after all.

I lay against him, wondering what I had done and what I wanted to do now. How did one go back to being a wife after being someone else’s goddess? I never got to decide, however, because the next thing I heard was Kyriakos calling me from the front of the house, home too early. Ariston and I both sat up, startled. My fingers fumbled as I tried to get the blankets off me, tangling in the fabric. My dress. I needed to find my dress. But it wasn’t here, I realized. I’d left it in the other room. Maybe, I thought desperately, I could get to it before Kyriakos found us. Maybe I could move fast enough.

But it turned out I couldn’t.

In the present, all I said to Seth was: “Yeah. It didn’t work out. Not at all. I cheated on him.”

“Oh.” A pause. “Why?”

“Because I could. It was stupid.”

“That’s why you don’t date?”

“Everything about that hurt too much. No good justified the bad.”

“You can’t know that the next one will turn out badly. Things change.”

“Not for me.” I closed my eyes to hide the tears welling up. “I’m going to pass out now.”

“Okay.”

He might have left or he might have stayed; I didn’t know. I simply slept, lost in black, numbing sleep.

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