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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 18

Around ten the next morning, the phone jolted me out of a dream I’d been having about jellyfish and mint chocolate chip ice cream.Rolling over, I picked it up, discovering in the process that I ached a lot less than I had last night.Immortal healing in action.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Seth.”

Seth! Yesterday’s events rushed back to me.

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The birthday party. The ice cream. The perfume. I again wondered who he’d had to meet after dropping me off at the bookstore.

“Hi,” I gushed, sitting up. “How are you?”

“Not bad. I’m, uh, over at Emerald City, and I didn’t see you… they said it’s your day off.”

“Yeah, I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Okay. So, um, do you want to maybe do something today? Lunch? Or a movie maybe? Unless you have other plans…”

“No… not exactly…” I bit my lip, silencing the immediate acceptance that wanted to spring forth.

I still had that strange, inexplicable attraction and sense of comfortable familiarity with Seth. I would have liked to hang out with him more, but I had already tried walking the line of friendship and dating with Roman, only to have that blow up in my face. It would be far better never to get started with Seth, despite my longings. Besides, I hadn’t forgotten about my angelic bodyguard; I didn’t really want him tagging along. Best to keep Carter indoors as long as possible.

“But I’m sick.”

“Really? I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, you know… just that kind of run-down feeling.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. “I don’t really feel up to getting out today.”

“Oh. Okay. Do you need anything? Do you want me to bring you any food maybe?”

“No… no,” I hastily assured him, banishing images of Seth feeding me chicken soup while I lounged around in cute pajamas. Christ. This was going to be harder than I thought. “I don’t want you to have to keep taking care of me. Thanks, though.”

“I don’t mind. I mean, no problem.”

“I should be in tomorrow, if this doesn’t get worse… so I’ll see you then. Maybe we can have coffee. Or rather, I’ll have coffee and you can… not have coffee.”

“Okay. I’d like that. Not having coffee, I mean. Would you mind… that is, can I check on you later? Call you again?”

“Sure.” The phone was safe enough.

“Okay. If you need anything before then…”

“I know how to reach you.”

We said our goodbyes and disconnected, and I clambered out of bed to see what mischief Carter had managed this morning. I found the angel sitting on a stool by my kitchen counter, feeding Aubrey sausage with one hand while he held some sort of breakfast sandwich in the other. An enormous McDonald’s bag sat on the counter near him.

“I made breakfast,” he told me, eyes on Aubrey.

“Don’t give her that,” I chastised. “It’s bad for her.”

“Cats don’t eat kernels of dry food in the wilderness.”

“Aubrey couldn’t survive in the wilderness.”

I scratched her head, but she was more interested in licking the grease off her chops. Opening the bag, I found a variety of sandwiches and hash brown patties.

“I didn’t know what you’d want,” Carter explained as I pulled out a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit.

I bit into it, melting at that scrumptiousness, grateful weight gain and cholesterol were nonevents for me. “Hey, wait. Did you actually go to McDonald’s?”

“Yup.”

I swallowed the food. “You just left? Just now?”

“Yup.”

“What kind of bodyguard are you? What if the nephilim came back and attacked me?”

He eyed me and shrugged. “You look okay to me.”

“You’re not very good at this.”

“Who was on the phone?”

“Seth.”

“The author?”

“Yeah. Wanted to hang out today. I told him I was sick.”

“Poor guy. You’re breaking his heart.”

“Better that than something else.” I finished the sandwich and went for a second one. Aubrey watched me hopefully.

“So what are we doing today?”

“Nothing. At least, I’m not going out, if that’s what you mean.”

“You aren’t going to attract nephilim attention that way.” He glanced around my apartment and grimaced when I didn’t respond. “It’s going to be a long day then. I hope you at least have cable.”

We spent the rest of the morning more or less staying out of each other’s way. I let him use my laptop, and he got caught up in surfing eBay. What he could be looking for, I had no idea. As for me, I stayed in my pajamas after all, tossing a robe over them and deeming that good enough. I attempted to call Roman once, knowing I’d need to face him eventually, but I only managed to leave a voice mail message.

I hung up with a sigh, opting to curl up on the couch with a book Seth had recommended in one of his e-mails.

Just as I was starting to think I’d recovered from the dense breakfast and needed lunch, Carter suddenly peered over the top of the laptop, like a hound sniffing the wind.

“I have to go,” he told me abruptly, standing up.

“What? What do you mean?”

” Nephilim signature.”

I bolted upright from my lounging position. “What? Where?”

“Not here.”

With that, he blinked out of sight.

I sat there, looking around uneasily. Whereas earlier I’d felt stifled by his presence, his sudden disappearance became a gaping hole in my environment. I was exposed. Vulnerable. When he didn’t return in a few minutes, I tried unsuccessfully to pay attention to my book, finally giving up after I’d reread the same sentence five times.

Still wanting lunch, I called and ordered a pizza, making sure I included enough for Carter. Doing this wasn’t the best of ideas on my part since it meant opening the door eventually. When I did, I expected no less than an army of nephilim outside. Instead, I only found a bored-looking pizza guy, demanding $15.07.

I munched on the pizza and tried to watch television with little luck. Turning to the laptop, I checked my e-mail and found that Seth had sent me a funny letter, much more eloquent than our earlier conversation, per usual. It only provided temporary distraction, and I was on the verge of breaking out the paint-by-number kit when Carter blinked back into my living room.

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“What the hell was that? Where have you been?”

The angel regarded me with a calm, wry smile. “Easy there, haven’t you ever heard of respecting boundaries in a relationship? It was in that book you were so quick to discard.”

“Cut it out. You can’t just say ‘ nephilim signature’ and then disappear like that.”

“I can actually. I have to.” He found the cold pizza on my counter and bit into a piece. Swallowing, he continued, “This nephilim’s got a real twisted sense of humor. Every once in a while, it likes to unmask… flash us, so to speak. This time it came from West Seattle.”

“You can detect that from this far away?”

“Jerome and I can. We never catch the creep, but we have to check it out anyway. Leads us on a merry chase.”

The implications seemed obvious to me. “So you leave me? What if it’s a setup? What if it flashes you over there and then zaps back to me while all the attention’s away?”

“It can’t just ‘zap’ around. Nephilim don’t move like higher immortals do; they’re constrained by the same limitations as you, fortunately. This one would have to get in a car and drive back over here, just like everyone else, which would hardly be a speedy process. You’re protected by miles of traffic congestion.”

“Weird.”

“Like we said, they’re unpredictable. They like breaking rules, shaking up the status quo just to see what we’ll do.”

“Weird,” I repeated. “Does it even know you’re there? That it’s making you drop everything and come?”

“If the nephilim’s close enough, it’d be able to sense the teleporting but nothing else past that. As long as we’re masked, our identities, strength, and whatever stay hidden. So, if it is lurking, it knows two higher immortals came to check it out, but not much more than that.”

“And it just watches and waits,” I concluded. “Kind of twisted. Lord, these things are a pain in the ass.”

“Tell me about it. They ‘do not go gently into that good night.’ “

I blinked at the poetic reference. “Wait… that’s what’s going to happen? You’re going to kill… er, destroy it or something?”

Carter cocked his head toward me curiously. “What’d you think would happen? Ten years and parole?”

“I… don’t know. I just figured… wow. I don’t know. Are you into that? The whole smiting thing? I mean, I suppose you guys vanquish evil on a regular basis, huh?”

“We smite, as you so cutely term it, when we have to. Demons tend to be more into it than we are. In fact, Nanette even offered to come up and take care of this nephilim,” he recalled, referring to Portland’s archdemoness. “But I told Jerome I’d help.”

“Wouldn’t Jerome want to do it himself?”

“Do you refuse backup when it’s offered?” he asked me, answering my question with a question which, really, was no answer at all. Thinking about it, he laughed softly. “Of course, I forget, Georgina rushes in where angels fear to tread.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know how that quote really goes.” I stood up and stretched. “Well, if the excitement’s over, I think I’ll take a bath.”

“Wow. The harsh lifestyle of a succubus. I wish I had your job.”

“Hey, our side’s always recruiting. You might need to be a little prettier to be an incubus, though. And a little more charming.”

“Untrue. Mortal women go for jerks. I see it all the time.”

“Touche.”

I left him and took my bath, afterward finally giving up my pajamas for jeans and a T-shirt. I returned to the living room, turned on the television, and found The African-Queen just starting. Carter closed the laptop and watched with me. I’d always liked Katharine Hepburn but couldn’t help marvel at what a dull day this was turning out to be. Avoiding going outside wouldn’t do me any good in the long term since I’d have to drag Carter around with me tomorrow anyway when I went to work. My self-imposed enclosure today only prolonged the inevitable. In light of this, I considered breaking the cabin fever by seeing if he wanted to go to dinner after the movie. He shot up before I could speak, once more sensing a nephilim signature.

“Twice in one day?”

“It happens.”

“Where now?”

“Lynn wood.”

“This guy gets around.”

But I was speaking to empty air; Carter had disappeared. Sighing, I turned back to the movie, feeling a little more at ease after the angel’s last explanation. The nephilim was in Lynnwood, trying to be a nuisance to Jerome and Carter. Commuting time was rapidly approaching, and Lynnwood was no small jump away. No nephilim would beat the angel back. As Carter had pointed out, I was safe for the time being. I had no need to panic.

Yet, I nearly jumped out of my skin anyway when I heard the phone ring a few minutes later. Nervously, I picked up the receiver, imagining a nephilim blasting out of it.

“Hello?”

“Hey. It’s me again.”

“Seth. Hi.”

“Hope I’m not bothering you. I just wanted to see how you are…”

“Better,” I told him sincerely. “I liked your e-mail.”

“Did you? Cool.”

Our normal silence fell. “So… did you get a lot of writing done today?”

“I did actually. About ten pages. That never sounds like a lot, but – “

A knock sounded at the door, and a chill ran down my spine. “Can-can you hang on?”

“Sure.”

Hesitantly, I prowled toward the door like a cat burglar, as though slow and drawn-out movements would actually do something against an insanely powerful supernatural being. Reaching the door, I carefully peered out the peephole.

Roman.

Exhaling with relief, I opened the door, resisting the urge to throw my arms around him. “Hi.”

“Are you talking to me?” asked Seth through the phone.

“Hi,” Roman told me, looking just as uncertain as I felt. “Can… I come in?”

” Er, no I’m not, I mean, yes you can, and yes I am talking to you now.” I stepped aside so Roman could enter. “Look Seth, can I, um, call you back? Or maybe… I’ll just see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Uh, yeah. I guess. Everything okay?”

“It’s fine. Thanks for calling.”

We hung up, and I gave Roman my full attention.

“Seth Mortensen, famous author?”

“I’ve been sick today,” I explained, using the same excuse I’d given Seth. “He just wanted to check on me.”

“Terribly considerate of him.” Roman put his hands in his pockets and paced.

“We’re just friends.”

“Of course you are. Because you don’t date, right?”

“Roman – ” I cut off the onslaught that wanted to rush out, switching to safer territory. “Can I get you anything? Soda? Coffee?”

“I can’t stay. I was passing through and got your message. I just thought I’d… I don’t know what I was thinking. It was stupid.”

He turned as if to leave, and I frantically reached out, grabbing his arm. “Wait. Don’t. Please.”

He turned to face me, looking down from his lofty height, the normally good-humored face grave today. Fighting my natural reaction at such proximity, I felt surprised when his expression softened, and he noted, mildly astonished, “You really aren’t feeling well.”

“W-what makes you say that?” I had shape-shifted my bruises away as Jerome had suggested and whatever smarting pain I felt was no longer visible.

Gingerly, he reached out and stroked my cheek, fingers becoming bolder. “I don’t know… you’re just… kind of pale, I guess.”

I started to point out I wasn’t wearing makeup and then realized I wanted to appear sick. “Probably a cold.”

He let his hand drop. “Is there anything I can do for you? I don’t like… seeing you like this…”

Lord, how bad did I look? “I’m fine. I just need rest. Look, about the other night – “

“I’m sorry,” he interrupted. “I shouldn’t have pushed you – “

I stared, amazed. “You didn’t do anything. It was me. I was the nutjob. I’m the one who couldn’t handle things.”

“No, it was my fault. I knew how you felt about getting serious, and I still kissed you.”

“I did as much kissing as you. That wasn’t the problem. Me freaking out was the problem. I was drunk and stupid. I shouldn’t have done that to you.”

“It’s no problem. Really. I’m just glad you’re okay.” A faint smile glimmered on his handsome features, and I remembered Seth saying I was easy to forgive. “Look, since we both feel we’re at fault, maybe we can make it up to each other. Go out sometime this week and – “

“No.” The calm certainty in my voice startled both of us.

“Georgina – “

“No. Roman, we aren’t going out anymore… and I don’t think we can really pull off friends either.” I swallowed. “It’d be better if we just make a clean break – “

“Georgina,” he exclaimed, eyes widening. “You can’t be serious. You and I – “

“I know. I know. But I can’t do this. Not now.”

“You’re breaking up with me.”

“Well, we weren’t ever really going out…”

“What happened to you?” he demanded. “What happened to you at some point in your life that made you so terrified of getting close to another person? What makes you run like this? Who hurt you?”

“Look, it’s complicated. And it doesn’t matter. That past is gone, remember? I just can’t do this with you now, okay?”

“Is there someone else? Doug? Or Seth?”

“No! There’s no one. I just can’t be with you.”

We went around and around, rephrasing the same points in different ways, our emotions growing and growing. It felt like forever, but really only a few minutes passed as he pressed and I refused. He never turned angry or pushy, but his dismay was clearly apparent, and I felt certain I’d cry as soon as he left.

Finally, glancing at the time, he ran a hand ruefully through his dark hair, turquoise eyes luminous with regret. “I have to go. I want to talk to you more – “

“No. I don’t think we should. It’s better. I’ve really liked being with you…”

He laughed harshly, walking toward the door. “Don’t say that. Don’t sugar coat things.”

“Roman…” I felt horrible. Anger and grief were written all over his face. “Please understand – “

“See you around, Georgina. Or maybe not.”

He had barely slammed the door when tears spilled down my cheeks. Going to my bedroom, I lay down on my bed, ready for a good cry that never came. No more tears issued forth, in spite of my mixed feelings of despair and relief. Part of me wanted to call Roman back right now, make him return to me; the other part coolly warned I now had clear reason to cut Seth off as soon as possible before things escalated.

Good Lord, why did it seem I was always hurting people I cared about? What was it about me that made me repeat this cycle over and over? Roman’s devastated face still hovered in my mind, but I took comfort in the fact that he hadn’t been traumatized as much as Kyriakos. Not nearly as much.

The discovery of my affair with Ariston had led to condemnation from both our families and an impending divorce coupled with the loss of my dowry. I think I might have been able to handle that scorn, even the hateful looks. What I could not handle was the way Kyriakos had been stripped of all life and caring. I almost wished he would turn angry and lash out at me, but there was nothing like that within him. Nothing at all. I had destroyed him.

After several days of separation, I found him sitting on one of the rocky outcroppings overlooking the water. I tried to engage him in conversation a number of times, but he wasn’t responding to any of it. He would only stare out at that expanse of blue, face dead and expressionless.

I stood by him, my own emotions writhing inside me. I had reveled in being a forbidden object of desire with Ariston, but I also wanted to be one of love with Kyriakos. I couldn’t have it both ways apparently.

I reached out to wipe the tears from his cheeks, and he slapped my hand away. It was the closest he had ever come to hitting me.

“Don’t,” he warned, leaping up. “Don’t ever touch me again. You sicken me.”

I felt my own tears now, even if his anger meant he was still alive. “Please… it was a mistake. I don’t know what happened.”

He laughed hollowly, a terrible, mirthless sound. “Don’t you? You seemed to know perfectly well at the time. So did he.”

“It was a mistake.”

He turned his back to me and walked over to the edge of the cliff, staring out at the sea. He spread his arms out and tipped his head back, letting the wind blow over him. Gulls cried nearby.

” Wh-what are you doing?”

“I am flying,” he told me. “If I keep flying… right over this edge, I will be happy again. Or better yet, I won’t feel anything at all. I won’t think about you anymore. I won’t think about your face or your eyes or the way you smile or the way you smell. I won’t love you anymore. I won’t hurt anymore.”

I approached him, half-afraid my presence would make him go over. “Stop it. You’re scaring me. You don’t mean any of this.”

“Don’t I?”

He looked at me, and there was no more anger or cynicism. Only grief. Sorrow. Despair. Depression blacker than a moonless night. It was terrible and frightening. I wanted him to snap at me again, to yell at me. I would have even let him hit me, if only to see some sort of heat in him. There was none of that, though. Only darkness.

He gave me a sad, bleak smile. The smile of one already dead.

“I will never forgive you.”

“Please…”

“You were my life, Letha… but no more. No more. I have no life now.”

He walked away, and even as my heart broke, I exhaled in relief to see him moving away from the cliff. I wanted to run after him but gave him his space instead. Sitting down in his spot, I drew my knees up and buried my face in them, half wishing I was dead.

“He’ll come back here, you know,” a voice suddenly said behind me. “The pull is too strong. And next time, he may go over.”

I jerked my head up, startled. I hadn’t heard anyone approach. I didn’t recognize the man who now stood there, odd in a town where everyone knew everyone else. He was slim and well-groomed, dressed in clothes more elegant than I usually saw around here.

“Who are you?”

“They call me Niphon,” he said with a small bow. “And you are Letha, Marthanes ‘ daughter, formerly wife of Kyriakos.”

“I still am his wife.”

“But not for long.”

I turned my face away. “What do you want?”

“I want to help you, Letha. I’d like to help you with this mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”

“No one can help me. Not unless you can undo the past.”

“No. No one can undo the past. I can make people forget it, though.”

I slowly turned back to him, assessing his bright eyes and dapper manner. “Stop joking. I’m not in the mood.”

“I assure you, I am most earnest.”

Staring at him, I suddenly somehow knew he was telling the truth, as impossible as it was to believe. Later I would learn that Niphon was an imp, but at the time, I had only sensed that he had a strange air about him, the whispering of power that promised he really could do what he said.

“How?”

His eyes gleamed, not unlike Hugh’s when he was on the edge of a major deal. “To erase the memory of what you’ve done is no small feat. It carries a price.”

“Can you make me forget too?”

“No. But I can make everyone else forget. Your family, your friends, the town. Him.”

“I don’t know… I don’t think I could go back to them then. Even if they didn’t remember, I still would. I couldn’t face Kyriakos like that. Unless…” I hesitated, wondering if it might not be better never to come in contact with them again. “Can you make them forget me altogether? Make it like I’ve never been born?”

Niphondrew a sharp, excited breath. “Yes, oh yes. But a favor like that… a favor like that carries an even higher price…”

He’d explained it to me then, what I’d have to give in return to completely blot me from the minds of those I’d known. My soul was a given. I’d carry it as long as I walked the earth, but it would have a lease on it, so to speak. That was the standard price for any hellish deal. But hell wanted more of me: my eternal service in the corruption of souls. I would spend the rest of my days seducing men, fulfilling their fantasies for my own gain and for those whom I served. It was an ironic fate, considering what had brought me to this point.

To aid me, I’d gain the ability to take any form I chose, as well as the power to enhance my own charm. And of course, I’d have eternal life. Immortality and invulnerability. For some, that might have been benefit alone.

“You’d be good. One of the best. I can sense it within you.” Imps had the ability to look into a person’s soul and nature. “Most people think desire is only in the body, but it’s here too.” He touched my forehead. “And you would never die. You would stay young and beautiful forever, until the earth perishes.”

“And after that?”

He smiled. “That’s a long way off, Letha, whereas your husband’s life is at stake now.”

That had been what sold me. The knowledge that I could save Kyriakos and give him a new life, a life free of me where he would have a chance to be happy once more. A life where I could slink away from my disgrace and maybe even be rightfully punished. My soul – which I barely understood anyway – seemed a small price. I’d agreed to the bargain, first shaking on it, then putting my mark on paperwork I couldn’t read. Niphon left me, and I returned to town. It was eerily simple.

When I returned, it was exactly as he had promised. The wish had already been carried out. No one knew me. Passing people – people I’d known my entire life – gave me the glances reserved for strangers. My own sisters walked by me without recognition. I wanted to find Kyriakos, to see if it was the same for him, but I couldn’t muster the courage. I didn’t want him to see my face, not ever again, even if he didn’t recognize it. So I spent the day wandering, trying to accept the fact that I was gone to these people. It was harder than I thought it would be. And sadder.

When nightfall came, I retreated again to the outskirts of town. I had nowhere to stay, after all. No family or friends. Instead, I sat in the dark, watching the moon and stars, wondering what I was supposed to do now. The answer came quickly.

She rose almost from the ground, at first appearing as nothing more than a shadow, then gradually coalescing into the shape of a woman. The air vibrated with power around her, and suddenly I felt suffocated. I backed up, terror filling every part of me, my lungs unable to take in air. Wind rose from nowhere, whipping my hair and flattening the grass around me.

Then, she stood before me, and the night was still again. Lilith. Queen of the Succubi. Lady of the Night. The First Woman.

Fear like I had never known swept over me – and lust. I had never been attracted to a woman before, but Lilith has that effect on everyone. It is fixed in her being. No one can resist her.

She wore a tall, slim shape that night, willowy and lovely. Her skin was the pale white of the aristocracy of that time – a white never achieved by those of us who worked outside regularly. Her hair was a raven’s wing of black, falling in gleaming waves to her ankles. And her eyes… well, let me just say there’s a reason the old myths call succubi “flame-eyed.” Her eyes were beautiful and deadly, promising anything you could ever want or desire if only you would let her help you. I still can’t remember what color they were, but I could not look away from them that night.

“Letha,” she crooned, approaching me. The air shimmered around her, and I actually trembled now from my desire. I wanted to run but instead sank to my knees, both from respect and the inability to stand. She came to me and tipped my chin so that I had to look in those eyes again. Sharp, black nails dug painfully into my skin, and it felt wonderful. “You will be my own daughter now, spreading discord and passion for the rest of your days. You will be both punisher and tester, a creature of both dreams and nightmares. Mortals will do anything for you, just for a touch. You will be loved and desired until the earth is dust.”

I whimpered at her proximity, and then she moved closer still, lifting me up so I stood before her. Those glorious lips came to mine, and that kiss shot orgasmic pleasure through my body. My cries were lost, smothered in that kiss. I closed my eyes, unable to look at her and unable to break away. I soaked into that ecstasy pulsing over and over in my body. And yet, as I let that bliss consume me, something else happened too.

My mortality was being stripped away.

It felt like disintegrating, like I had become ashes in the wind. I wondered if that was how death felt. Like you were nothing. Gone. Then, just as quickly, I was put back together, myself once more. But I could feel the power burning through me now, different from the life that filled humans. My immortality shone like a star in the night, cold and pure. No longer would old age threaten. No longer would sickness haunt me. No longer would my flesh be passionately driven by the knowledge that time was short, that I had to leave my mark on the world. That I had to pass on my blood.

I opened my eyes, and the onslaught of pleasure disappeared. So did Lilith. I stood alone in the darkness, quivering with my newfound power. And with that power, I could feel something more: an itch in my flesh. An itch that told me my skin could become anything I wanted it to be with only a thought. I was reborn. I was empowered.

And I was hungry…

“What’s wrong?”

Blinking back tears, I looked up at Carter. He stood in the doorway to my bedroom, pushing a lock of hair out of his eyes, face concerned.

“Nothing,” I muttered, burying my face in my pillow. “No nephilim ?”

“No nephilim.” An awkward pause followed. “Look… are you sure you’re okay? Because you don’t look okay.”

“I’m fine. Didn’t you hear me?”

He still wouldn’t give up, though. “I know we’re not that close, but if you need to talk – “

“Like you’d understand,” I scoffed, venom in my voice. “You’ve never had a heart. You don’t know what it’s like, so don’t even pretend like you do.”

“Georgina.”

“Go. Away. Please.”

I turned back toward my pillow, waiting for another protest, but none came. When I dared a peek, the angel was gone.

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