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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 15

Sometimes you wake up from a dream.And sometimes, every once in a while, you wake up in a dream.That’s what happened to me.

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I opened my eyes, head throbbing, vaguely aware of something warm and fuzzy in my arms. Bright sunlight made me squint at first, but when I could finally focus, I realized I was looking straight into the faces of Cady and O’Neill.

I shot upright, a motion my head did not approve of at all. Surely I was mistaken. Surely, no… there they were. Before me, next to the bed I sat in, was a large oak desk surrounded by bulletin boards and white boards. Pinned to the bulletin boards were magazine cutouts, faces and faces of people who reflected every nuance of the characters described in Seth’s books. One section was even labeled NINAcady, displaying at least twenty different cutouts of slim blondes with cropped, curly hair, while another section – marked BRYANT O’NEILL – displayed brooding, thirty-something men with dark hair. Some of the cutouts were from major ads I recognized, though I’d never before connected the resemblance to Seth’s characters. Other minor characters from the books also had places on the display, though less noticeably so than the leads.

Scrawls of notes and words filled the white boards, most done in a bizarre shorthand type of flow chart that made no sense to me. Working Title: Azure Hopes – fix later; Add Jonah Chap. 7; Clean up 3-5; C&O in Tampa or Naples? Check stats; Don Markosin 8…On and on the scrawls went. I stared and stared at them, realizing I was seeing the skeleton foundation of Seth’s next novel. Part of me whispered I should look away, that I was ruining something, but the rest of me was too fascinated at glimpsing the way a novel and its world came to life.

Finally, the smell of frying bacon made me turn from Seth’s desk, forcing me to piece together how I’d arrived here. I cringed, recalling what an idiot I’d been around Doug, Roman, and even Seth, but my hunger won out in temporarily allaying my remorse. It seemed odd that I should feel hungry after what I’d put my stomach through last night, but like Hugh’s beating, I could bounce back quickly.

Disentangling myself from the covers and the teddy bear I’d unknowingly been holding, I made my way to the bathroom to rinse my mouth and study my appearance: wild-haired and downright adolescent looking in the T-shirt. I didn’t want to waste the energy to shape-shift, however, and trotted out of the bathroom, following the sounds of sizzling against a background of “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.

Seth stood in a modern, well-lit kitchen, tending a skillet on a stove. The color scheme was bright and cheery, maple wood cupboards and beams accented with cornflower blue paint on the walls. Seeing me, he turned down the music and gave me a solicitous look. His shirt today displayed Tom and Jerry.

“Good morning. How are you feeling?”

“Surprisingly well.” I made my way to a small, two-person table and sat down, tugging the shirt to cover my thighs. “My head seems to be the only casualty thus far.”

“You want something for it?”

“No. It’ll clear up.” I hesitated, detecting something through the smell of salty, greasy meat. “Is that… coffee?”

“Yup. Want some?”

“Regular?”

“Yup.” He walked over to a pot, poured a mug of steaming coffee, and brought it to me, along with a cute sugar and creamer set.

“I thought you didn’t drink this stuff.”

“I don’t. I just keep it on hand in case caffeine-crazed women wake up in my bed.”

“That happen a lot?”

Seth smiled mysteriously and returned to the stove. “Are you hungry?”

“Famished.”

“How do you like your eggs?”

“Over hard.”

“Nice choice. You want bacon too? You’re not a vegetarian or anything?”

“I’m an honest carnivore. I want the works… if that’s not asking too much.” I felt kind of sheepish about him waiting on me, considering everything else he’d already done. He didn’t appear to mind.

The works turned out to be more than I’d imagined: eggs, bacon, toast, two kinds of jam, coffee cake, and orange juice. I ate it all, thinking about how jealous Peter would be, still confined to his low- carbdiet.

“I’m in a food coma,” I told Seth afterward, helping with the dishes. “I’ll need to go back to bed and sleep it off. Do you eat like this every day?”

“Nah. Just when aforementioned women are hanging out. It ensures they don’t leave too quickly.”

“Not a problem, considering this is all I have to wear.”

“Not true,” he told me, pointing toward his living room. Looking up, I saw my dress – clean – hanging on a hanger. The sheer, bikini-cut panties I’d worn under it had been looped around the hanger’s head. “It said dry-clean, but I took a chance on putting it on extra-gentle cycle in the wash. It came out okay. So did the, uh, other thing.”

“Thanks,” I replied, unsure as to how I felt about him washing my underwear. “Thanks for everything. I really appreciate what you did for me last night – you must think I’m a total freak – “

He shrugged. “It’s no problem. But” – he glanced at a nearby clock – “I may need to run out on you soon. Remember that one party? It starts at noon. You can still hang out here.”

I turned to the same clock. Eleven forty-seven.

“Noon! Why didn’t you wake me up sooner? You’ll be late!”

He shrugged again, infinitely unconcerned. “I figured you needed the sleep.”

Setting down the towel I’d been holding, I darted to the living room and grabbed my dress. “I’ll call a cab. You go. Don’t worry about me.”

“Seriously, it’s no problem,” he argued. “I can give you a ride home even, or… well, if you wanted, you could come with me.”

We both froze awkwardly. I didn’t really feel up to going to some strange party. What I needed to do was get home and do damage control with Roman and Doug. Yet… Seth had been terribly nice to me, and he had wanted me to go to this thing before.

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Didn’t I owe him? Surely I could do this for him. An afternoon party probably wouldn’t even last that long.

“Would we need to pick up anything?” I asked at last. “Wine? Brie?”

He shook his head. “Probably not. It’s for my eight-year-old niece.”

“Oh. So no wine then?”

“Yeah. And I think she’s more into Gouda anyway.”

I looked at the dress. “I’ll be overdressed. You got anything I can put on over this?”

Seven minutes later, I sat in Seth’s car, driving toward Lake Forest Park. I had the georgette dress back on, along with a man’s plaid flannel shirt in shades of white, gray, and navy.

The shirt was open save for a couple buttons. I had French-braided my hair in lieu of shape-shifting it into place and now frantically applied cosmetics from my purse as I rode. I suspected I had a sort of Ginger-Rogers-Joins-Nirvana look going.

We arrived at the suburban house I’d dropped Seth off at a few weeks ago. Pink balloons fluttered from the mailbox, and a mother in jeans and a sweatshirt waved goodbye as a small girl disappeared into the house. Said mother then returned to the massive, soccer team-carrying vehicle running in the driveway.

“Whoa,” I said, taking it all in. “I’ve never been to anything like this before.”

“You must have when you were little,” Seth amended, parking across the street.

“Well, yeah,” I lied. “But it’s a different experience at this age.”

We approached the front door, and he entered without knocking. Immediately, four small, blond female forms slammed into him, grappling onto his limbs, nearly knocking him over.

“Uncle Seth! Uncle Seth!”

“Uncle Seth’s here!”

“Is that for me? Is that for me?”

“Desist, before I have to break out the tear gas,” Seth told them mildly, unclasping one who threatened to rip his left arm off.

One of them, all blond curls and giant blue eyes like the others, caught sight of me. “Hi,” she said boldly, “who are you?” Before I could answer, she tore out of the foyer, yelling, “Uncle Seth brought a girl!”

Seth made a face. “That’s Morgan. She’s six.” He pointed to a clone of her. “This is McKenna, her twin. Over here’s Kayla, four. This one” – he paused to lift up the tallest of the four, a motion that made her cackle gleefully – “is Kendall, the birthday girl. And I imagine Brandy’s here somewhere, but she’s too civilized to assault me like the rest.”

A living room extended beyond the foyer, and another blond girl, a few years older than Kendall, watched us over the back of a couch. Other assorted children – the party guests, I presumed – ran and screamed beyond her. “I’m here, Uncle Seth.”

Seth set Kendall down and tousled Brandy’s hair, much to her chagrin. She wore the affronted dignity only one on the edge of adolescence could have. Morgan returned shortly thereafter with a tall, blond woman in tow. “See? See?” exclaimed the little girl. “I told you.”

“Do you always create such a scene?” the woman asked, giving Seth a quick hug. She looked happy but exhausted. I could understand why.

“I should be so lucky. My fans aren’t half this ravenous. Andrea, this is Georgina. Georgina, Andrea.” I shook her hand as a slightly shorter, younger version of Seth entered the room. “And that’s my brother, Terry.”

“Welcome to our chaos, Georgina,” Terry told me after I’d been introduced. He glanced at all of the children, his own and others, running around the house. “I’m not sure I fully understand Seth’s wisdom in bringing you here. You’ll never come back.”

“Hey,” exclaimed Kendall to me, “isn’t that the shirt we got Uncle Seth for Christmas?”

An awkward silence fell among us adults as we all tried to look somewhere else. Finally, Andrea cleared her throat and said, “All right, guys, let’s fall into line and get some games going.”

I had expected a child’s birthday party to be wild, but what proceeded to pass that afternoon surpassed even my imaginings. Equally impressive was the way in which Seth’s brother and sister-in-law managed to control the herd of screaming, jumping creatures that somehow seemed to be everywhere in the house at once. Terry and Andrea handled them all with efficient good nature while Seth and I did little more than watch, occasionally fielding random questions tossed our way. The entire experience stunned me as a bystander; I could hardly imagine coping with it on a regular basis. It was fascinating.

At one point, catching his breath, Terry saw me alone and struck up a conversation.

“I’m glad you could come,” he said. “I didn’t know Seth was seeing anyone.”

“We’re just friends,” I clarified.

“Still. It’s nice to see him with someone flesh and blood. Someone he didn’t make up.”

“Is it true he nearly missed your wedding?”

Terry grimaced by way of confirmation. “My best man, if you can believe that. Showing up two minutes before the ceremony began. We were on the verge of starting without him.”

I could only laugh.

He shook his head. “If you continue hanging out with him, make sure you keep him in line. My brother may be brilliant, but by God, he needs a keeper sometimes.”

After party games came cake, and after cake came presents. Kendall lifted Seth’s up expertly and shook it. “Books,” she declared.

Brandy, older and therefore quietest of the group, glanced at me and explained, “Uncle Seth always gets us books.”

This did not seem to faze Kendall any. She tore open the package and crowed delightedly over three books of pirate stories contained within.

“Pirates, huh?” I asked Seth. “Is that politically correct?”

His eyes danced. “She wants to be one.”

As the party wound down and guests were retrieved by parents, Kendall beseeched Seth to read stories, and I followed him, the nieces, and other stragglers into the living room while the girls’ parents attempted to clean up in the kitchen. Seth read in the same compelling way he had at his signing, and I curled up in an armchair, content to just listen and watch. I was therefore startled when Kayla’s small form scrambled up and sat on my lap.

Youngest of the girls, she could shriek with the best but tended to speak very little. She studied me with her globes of eyes, touched my French braid with interest, and then snuggled into me to listen to Seth. I wondered if she understood any of what he was saying. Regardless, she was soft and warm and smelled like little girl. Unconsciously, I ran my fingers through the fine, corn silk strands of hair and soon began weaving it into a braid similar to mine.

When Seth finished a story, McKenna noticed what I was doing. “Me next.”

“No, me,” ordered Kendall eagerly. “It’s my birthday.”

I ended up braiding for all four of the younger girls. Brandy shyly demurred. Not wanting four copies of me, I elected other styles for the girls, herringbones and plaits that delighted them. Seth continued to read, occasionally glancing up at me and my handiwork.

By the time we were ready to leave, I felt drained physically and emotionally. Children always made me feel a little wistful; being in close contact like this made me downright sad in a way I couldn’t explain.

Seth said goodbye to his brother while I lingered near the door. As I did, I noticed a small bookcase beside me. Studying the titles, I picked out Burberry’s New Annotated Bible: Old and New Testaments. Remembering what Roman had said about the King James Version being a bad translation, I opened this one up to Genesis 6.

The wording was nearly identical, a little cleaner and more modern sounding here and there, but mostly unchanged. With one exception. In verse 4, the King James Version had read: “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…” This version, however, said: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days and also afterwards, when the sons of God went to the daughters of men…”

Nephilim? A superscript number appeared by the word, and I followed it to the appropriate footnote.

The word ” nephilim” is sometimes translated as “giants ” or “fallen ones.” Sources vary in accounts of these angelic offspring, citing them sometimes simply as neighbors to the Canaanites and other times as Titan-like creatures reminiscent of Greek heroes (Harrington, 2001).

Frustrated, I looked up the Harrington reference in the book’s bibliography, finding it linked to Biblical Arcanaand Myth by Robert Harrington. I memorized the title and author, slipping the Bible back into its place just as Seth turned to go.

We drove in silence, the sky graying early as Seattle’s winter loomed nearer. I might normally have interpreted the quiet in the car as awkward or weird, but I found it comfortable as my mind pondered the nephilim reference. I needed to get a hold of the Harrington book, I decided.

“They didn’t have ice cream,” Seth suddenly noted, interrupting my thoughts.

“Huh?”

“Terry and Andrea. They had cake with no ice cream. You want to get some ice cream?”

“Not enough sugar for you already?”

“They just go together, that’s all.”

“It’s only about fifty out,” I warned as he pulled up next to an ice cream parlor. Ice cream in inclement weather seemed odd to me. “And it’s windy.”

“Are you kidding? In Chicago, a place like this wouldn’t even be open this time of year. This is balmy.”

We went inside. Seth ordered a double cone of mint chocolate chip. I ordered a more adventurous double of blueberry cheesecake and mocha almond swirl. Sitting at a table by the windows, we ate our sugary confections in more silence.

Finally, he said, “You’re quiet today.”

I turned on him in wonder, pausing in my mental dissection of nephilim. “That’s a switch.”

“What is?”

“Usually I think you’re too quiet. I have to talk and talk to keep things going.”

“I’ve noticed. Er, I didn’t mean that like it came out. That sounded bad. You talking is a good thing. You always know what to say. Exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.”

“Not last night. I said horrible things last night. To Doug and Roman both. They’ll never forgive me,” I lamented.

“Sure they will. Doug’s a good guy. I don’t really know Roman, but…”

“But what?”

Seth suddenly looked embarrassed. “I imagine you’re easy to forgive.”

We looked at each other for a moment, and warmth flushed my cheeks. Not blood boiling, get naked and jump someone warm, but just cozily warm. Like being wrapped in a blanket.

“That looks terrible, you know.”

“What does?”

He pointed at my cone. “That combination.”

“Hey, don’t knock it until you try it. They actually go pretty well together.”

He looked doubtful.

I slid my chair over by him and offered him a bite. “Make sure you get both flavors.”

He leaned in for the bite and managed both the blueberry cheesecake and mocha almond swirl. Unfortunately, a piece of the blueberry cheesecake scoop fell off onto his chin in the process. I instinctively reached out to stop it, sliding it back to his mouth. He just as automatically nabbed the wayward piece with his tongue, licking it off my fingers.

A blast of eroticism coursed through me, and looking into his eyes, I knew he’d shared it too. “Here,” I said hastily, reaching for a napkin, ignoring the desire to return my fingers to his mouth.

Seth wiped his chin with it, but for once, he didn’t let his self-consciousness get the better of him. He stayed where he was, leaning close to me.

“You smell amazing. Like… gardenias.”

“Tuberose,” I corrected automatically, dazed by how close he was to me.

“Tuberose,” he repeated. “And incense, I think. I’ve never smelled anything like it.” He leaned a hair closer.

“It’s Michael by Michael Kors. You can get it at any high-end department store.” I nearly groaned as the words left my flustered lips. What an idiotic thing to say. My nervousness made me flippant. “Maybe Cady could start wearing it.”

Seth was all seriousness. “No. This is you. Only you. It would never smell exactly the same on anyone else.”

I shivered. I wore this perfume because it was reminiscent of what other immortals sensed in my unique signature, my aura. This is you. With just a few casual words, I felt as though Seth had uncovered some secret part of me, looked into my soul.

We sat there then, chemistry burning between us like crazy, neither of us acting. I knew he would not try to kiss me as Roman had. Seth was content simply to look at me, to make love to me with his eyes.

Suddenly the wind caught the door to the tiny restaurant, forcing it open as a huge gust swept in. Wisps of hair blew into my face, and I slammed my hands down on the napkins that flew up from our table. Other items in the parlor had less success as more napkins and scraps of paper drifted around, and a cup of plastic spoons fell off the counter, spilling its contents on the floor. The clerk behind the counter ran to the door, fighting against the wind to make the latch catch. When he’d finally done so, he glared at the door resentfully.

With the moment – whatever it was – shattered, Seth and I picked up our things and left shortly thereafter. I asked him to drop me off at the bookstore. I hoped Doug would be there to apologize to, plus I wanted to get ahold of that Harrington book.

“You want to come in and hang out? Say hi to anybody?” I somehow felt reluctant to leave Seth now, in spite of all the things I needed to do.

He shook his head. “Sorry. I’ve got to go. I’m meeting someone.”

“Oh.” I felt kind of foolish. He could have a date now for all I knew. And why shouldn’t he? It wasn’t like I was his only social connection, especially after my no-dating spiel. I was foolish to be reading so much into the ice cream encounter, especially since I was supposedly crazy about Roman. “Well. Thanks again for everything. I’ll make it up to you.”

He waved his hand dismissively. “It wasn’t anything. Besides, you paid me back by going to the party.”

Now I shook my head. “I didn’t really do anything there.”

Seth only smiled. “See you around.”

I stepped out of the car and suddenly stuck my head back in. “Hey, I should have asked you this earlier. Do you have my book signed yet? The Glasgow Pact ? “

“Oh… man. No. I can’t believe I forgot about that. It’s still at my place. I’ll sign it and bring it soon. I’m sorry.” He looked sincerely contrite.

“Okay. It’s no problem.” I should have ransacked his condo for it.

We said goodbye again, and I turned into the bookstore. If I remembered my schedule right, Paige should have opened and Doug should be here now as the late manager. Sure enough, he stood at the information desk, looking on while Tammi helped a customer.

“Hey,” I said, walking up to him, uneasiness filling me as I recalled my harsh words. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“No.”

Whoa. I’d expected him to be upset… but this?

“You need to call your friend first.”

“I – what?”

“That one guy,” Doug explained. “That plastic surgeon that hangs out with you and Cody.”

“Hugh?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. He’s called, like, a hundred times, leaving messages. He’s been worried about you.” His expression turned both soft and wry as he took in my dress and flannel ensemble. “So have I.”

I frowned, wondering at Hugh’s urgency. “Okay. I’ll call him now. Come talk to me later?”

Doug nodded, and I started to pull out my cell phone until I remembered I’d broken it last night. Retreating to the back office instead, I sat on the desk’s edge and called Hugh.

“Hello?”

“Hugh?”

“Jesus Christ, Georgina. Where the hell have you been?”

“I, er, nowhere…”

“We’ve been trying to get ahold of you all last night and today.”

“I wasn’t at home,” I explained. “And my cell phone broke. Why? What’s going on? Tell me there hasn’t been another one.”

“Afraid so. Another murder this time, no more friendly beatings. When we couldn’t reach you, the vampires and I thought he’d got you too, even though Jerome said he could feel that you were fine.”

I swallowed. “Who… who was it?”

“Are you sitting down?”

“Sort of.”

I braced myself, ready for anything. Demon. Imp. Vampire. Succubus.

“Lucinda.”

I blinked. “What?” All my theories of an avenger of evil shattered. “But that’s impossible. She’s – she’s – “

” – an angel,” Hugh finished for me.

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