Succubus Blues CHAPTER 19
Carter brought me daffodils the next morning.I had no idea where he could have found them this time of year.He’d probably teleported to another continent.
“What are these?” I demanded.
“You aren’t coming on to me after all, are you?”
“I’d bring roses for that.” For the first time since I’d known him, the angel looked embarrassed. “I don’t know. You seemed upset last night. I thought… I thought these might cheer you up.”
“Thanks… that’s nice, I guess. About last night… when I snapped at you…”
He shook it off. “Don’t worry about it. We all have moments of weakness. It’s how we recover from them that really counts.”
I put the daffodils in a vase, considered putting them on the counter. Roman’s bouquet, now wilting, was already there, and the red carnations I’d bought the night Duane had died had long since been thrown away. It seemed unfair to give Roman’s flowers competition, so I put Carter’s on the windowsill in my bedroom.
After that, the days fell into a comfortable routine. Carter and I never became best friends, but we managed a sort of pleasant equilibrium. We hung out together, watched movies together, and even on occasion cooked together. The angel turned out to be pretty dapper in the kitchen; I was still inept.
At work, he followed me around, as invisible and unobtrusive as promised. I wasn’t sure what he did during my shifts. He gave me the impression he wandered the store, people-watching. Maybe even browsing books. I also knew he spent a good deal of time waiting in my office, even if I wasn’t there, hoping another nephilim note might appear. None came. The occasional nephilim flashings did, however, and Carter would disappear for a while without even telling me, either giving me a brief feathery touch on the cheek to indicate his return or speaking a few quick words inside my mind.
I also started having coffee with Seth before my shifts. He had been waiting for me that first day back with a white chocolate mocha, and to my surprise, one for himself as well. “Bruce made it decaf for me,” he had explained.
The gesture had been too cute to refuse, so I’d sat and talked with him that day, and the next, and the next… It was hardly cutting him off as I’d intended, but I did stay pretty firm in refusing any other attempts at socializing outside of work. The coffee encounters seemed good enough for him, fortunately, and an interesting dynamic soon developed.
Since I was still depressed over Roman, I moved and acted sluggishly, talking very little, too caught up in my own personal misery. Seth must have sensed a bit of this, and rather than let our coffee conversations die in the water, he took the lead in discussion – a notable change for him. It seemed a bit forced at first, but once he grew more comfortable, I found he truly could speak as well as he wrote. I marveled at the shift and enjoyed our time together, finding my heartache over Roman soothed a bit.
He’s really nice, Carter noted one morning after I’d left Seth to go work the information desk. I don’t know why you spend so much time mooning over that other guy when you’ve got one like this.
It isn’t as simple as Seth being nice or not, I snapped back, still feeling a little weird about the mind-to-mind communication higher immortals employed so readily. And it’s not like I’m looking for a new guy anyway. Besides, you didn’t even know Roman. How can you talk?
I know that you didn’t know him for that long. How much could have really developed between you guys?
Plenty. He was really funny. And smart. And good looking.
I suppose relationships have been built on less. Still, I’m putting my money on Seth.
Go away. I have to work.
Angels. What did they know?
While walking home from the bookstore on my fourth day at work with Carter, he asked, You want to go see Erik?
I frowned, thinking. I had worked the early shift today and had to go back tonight to teach the staff’s final dance lesson. I had two hours before that happened and had figured the angel and I would continue our newly formed habit of watching old movies together.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked aloud, once we were safely inside my apartment.
He materialized beside me. “I want to test the waters. We’ve had no nephilim activity in a while. No notes. No attacks. Yet, we know it’s still around because I keep getting those little flashings. Why? What’s its game?”
I pulled a can of Mountain Dew out of my refrigerator and sat on a stool. “And you haven’t ruled out Erik as a leak.”
“No, I haven’t. Like I said before, I don’t want it to be Erik, but he is probably the biggest mortal source of immortal information around.”
“And,” I concluded drearily, “if he communicates with the nephilim, he might know some of its plans. What are you going to do, shake him down for information? Because I don’t want to be around for that.”
“I don’t work that way. I can tell if people are lying, but I’m not particularly good at… oh, how shall I put this, teasing information out of them. As you noted recently, I’m not exactly charming. You, however, excel at charm.”
I didn’t like where this was going. “What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary, I promise. Just talk to him like you normally would. Like you were following up on your last conversation. Allude to nephilim if you can, and see what happens. He likes you.”
“What will you do?”
“I’ll be there, just invisible.”
“We’re going to be cutting it close to drive back here in time for the dance lesson.”
“Not true. I’ll teleport you.”
“Ugh.” I had had higher immortals do that for me a handful of times over the years. It was not pleasant.
“Come on,” he urged, sensing my reluctance. “Don’t you want to put this nephilim business to an end?”
“All right, all right, let me change clothes. I’m still not convinced we won’t be cramming at the end.”
He made some Jerome-like comments about my desire to adorn myself the old-fashioned way, but I ignored him. When I was ready, we both turned invisible, and he gripped my wrists. There was a feeling, only a millisecond long, like wind rushing over me, and then we stood inside a corner of Erik’s store. A faint wave of nausea, similar to what I’d had while drinking heavily, rolled up in me and quickly faded.
Seeing no one around, not even Erik, I turned visible. “Hello?”
A few moments later, the old shopkeeper stuck his head out from the back room. “Miss Kincaid, my goodness. I didn’t hear you come in. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Likewise.” I gave him a prizewinning succubus smile.
“You’re dressed up tonight,” he told me, taking in my dress. “Special occasion?”
“I’m going dancing after this. In fact, I can’t stay long.”
“Yes, of course. Do you have time for tea then?”
I hesitated a moment, and Carter spoke in my head: Yes.
Erik went to put on water, and I cleared off our table, both of us falling into usual roles. When he returned with the tea, I learned it was yet another of his themed herbals, this time called Clarity.
I complimented him on it, smiling the whole time, doing my best to play up the charming part. I even made a bit of small talk before finally plunging ahead with my mission objective.
“I wanted to thank you for your help last time with the scripture reference,” I explained. “It helped me understand the whole fallen angel bit, but I confess… it sort of sent me off in a weird direction.”
“Oh?” His bushy gray eyebrows rose as he brought the cup to his lips.
I nodded. “In mentioning angels falling… it also mentioned those who married and had offspring. Who had nephilim.”
Boy, you don’t waste time, Carter noted dryly.
The old man nodded along with me, as though I had made a perfectly ordinary observation. “Yes, yes. Fascinating topic, the nephilim. Quite a controversial subject among biblical scholars.”
“Well, some adherents don’t like to acknowledge that angels, the holiest of the holy, would engage in such base activities, fallen or no. That their half-divine bastards might be walking the world is more startling still. It makes a lot of faithful very angry.”
“But is it true then? That there are nephilim out there?”
Erik gave me one of his canny smiles. “Once again, you ask me questions I’m surprised you don’t know the answer to.”
See? This is what he does to me too. Evades the question.
You and Jerome do it to us all the time, I shot back to the angel.
To Erik I replied, “Well, like I’ve said before, my scope is rather limited.” He only chuckled, and I pushed the issue. “So? Are they, or aren’t they out there?”
“You sound like someone chasing extraterrestrials, Miss Kincaid. Ironic, since some conspiracy theorists claim alien sightings are actually nephilim sightings and vice versa. But to reassure you – or not, perhaps – yes, they are indeed out there.”
“Aliens or nephilim ?” I joked, trying to keep the conversation light, though I knew he had meant nephilim. I already knew they existed, but I was glad to hear him reaffirm it so readily. Surely if he wanted to hide being a nephilim’s ally, he would have been more evasive.
“Both, actually, if you spent extensive time around my previous place of employment.”
I laughed out loud, recalling how Krystal Starz did indeed stock books on how to commune with beings from outer space. “I’d forgotten about that. You know, I’ve actually had a few run-ins with your former boss recently.”
Erik’s eyes sharpened. “Have you? What happened?”
“No big deal. Just professional differences, I guess. I poached a few of your old coworkers – Tammiand Janice? – from her. Helena wasn’t very happy.”
“No. I imagine she wouldn’t be. Did she do anything?”
“Came to my work and made a lot of noise, gave me some doom and gloom predictions. No big deal.”
“She’s an interesting woman,” he observed.
“That’s an understatement.” I realized we’d gotten sidetracked and half expected Carter to chastise me for it. He didn’t. “So, do you know of any way to spot a nephilim ? Anticipate where it’ll be next?”
Erik gave me a strange look, not responding right away. I felt my stomach lurch a little. Maybe he did know more about our nephilim. I hoped not.
“Not really,” he finally said. “Identifying immortals isn’t so easy.”
“But it can be done.”
“Yes, of course, but some are better at hiding than others. Nephilim especially have reason to stay hidden since they’re continually pursued.”
“Even when not being nuisances?” I asked, surprised. Neither Carter nor Jerome had mentioned that.
“That’s kind of sad.”
I remembered the blurb from Harrington’s book, recalling how both heaven and hell had rejected the nephilim. Maybe I’d be really pissed off in that case too, wanting to cause trouble and let both sides know I didn’t approve of their policies.
Erik had little more to offer on nephilim, and our conversation digressed further and further. An hour went by to my surprise, as I would have expected Carter to stop me by now. Making my own excuses, I apologized to Erik, telling him I needed to get going. I bought some of the tea as usual, and he urged me to come back anytime, also as usual.
When I got to the door, he called hesitantly, “Miss Kincaid? About nephilim…”
I felt gooseflesh rise on me. He did indeed know something about all of this. Damn it.
“Remember, they’re immortal. They’ve been around for a long time, but unlike other immortals, they have no agendas or divine plots to carry out. Many try to simply live meaningful and even ordinary lives.”
I pondered this weird piece of information as I walked outside, imagining a nephilim commuting to a day job. Hard to juxtapose that with the horrific images I had otherwise been fostering.
Evening had long since fallen, and the parking lot was empty. Turning invisible, I waited for Carter to take us out. And waited. And waited.
“Well? What’s the holdup?” I murmured.
Then it hit me: Carter had left on another nephilim hunt. I was alone. Great. What was I supposed to do? I had no car, and regardless of what the angel had said about me being safe when he did this sort of thing, I felt uneasy standing out here alone in the dark. I stepped back inside the store, visible. Erik looked up at me with surprise.
“Do you mind if I wait here for a ride?”
“Not at all.”
Of course, now I had to get a ride. Pulling out my new cell phone, I debated who to call. Cody would be the ideal choice, but he lived far south of the bookstore and I was north. He would already be on his way to the dance lesson, and coming up here would only ensure we were both late. I needed someone who lived close by, but I didn’t know anybody except… well, Seth lived in the University District. That wasn’t too far away from Lake City. The tricky part was whether he was actually at his home or still in Queen Anne.
Taking the plunge, I called his cell.
“It’s Georgina. Where are you at?”
“Great. Would you mind giving me a ride?”
Fifteen minutes later, Seth arrived at Erik’s. I’d half expected Carter to show back up in that time, but there’d been no sign of him. Thanking Seth, I slid into his car. “I really appreciate you doing this. My ride kind of flaked out on me.”
“I don’t mind.” He hesitated and gave me a sidelong glance. “You look beautiful.”
“Thanks.” I had on a red sleeveless dress with a corset-like top.
“It could use a flannel shirt, though.”
It took me a moment to remember the ensemble I’d worn to his brother’s, a moment longer still to recall I’d never given him the shirt back.
“I’m sorry,” I told him after I pointed the same thing out to him. “I’ll bring it back soon.”
“Not a problem. I’m still holding your book hostage, after all. Fair is fair. Feel free to wear it some more, so it smells like you and that perfume.”
He abruptly shut up, apparently fearing he’d said too much, which was probably true. I wanted to laugh the comment off, ease his embarrassment a little, but instead all I could imagine was Seth holding the flannel shirt to his face, inhaling deeply, because it smelled like me. The image was so sexy, so utterly provocative, that I turned slightly away from him, looking out the window to hide my feelings and suddenly heavy breathing.
What a shameless strumpet I was, I decided as the rest of the car ride proceeded in dead silence. Crying over Roman one minute, suddenly wanting to jump into bed with Seth the next. I was fickle. I gave out mixed signals to men, flitting from one to another, beckoning with one hand and pushing away with the other. Admittedly, the Martin energy ride was fast coming to an end, so most males were starting to look pretty good again, but still… I had no shame. I didn’t even know who or what I wanted anymore.
When Seth parked but refused to come in with me to Emerald City, I felt guilty, knowing he thought that I thought he must be a pervert or something for the perfume comment. I couldn’t let that go, couldn’t stand the thought of him feeling bad over me. Especially when the perfume remark had been kind of a turn-on. I had to fix things.
I leaned toward him, hoping the corset top would do half my work for me in smoothing the matter over. “Do you remember that one scene in The Glass House? The one where O’Neill walks that waitress home?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Um, I wrote that scene.”
“If I recall, doesn’t he say something about what a shame it is to abandon a woman in a low-cut dress?”
Seth stared at me, expression unreadable. Finally, a not-so-dazed smile flickered onto his face. “He says, ‘A man who leaves a woman alone in a dress like that is no man at all. A woman in a dress like that doesn’t want to be alone.’ “
I looked back at him meaningfully. “Well?”
“Don’t make me spell it out. I’m in this dress, and I don’t want to be alone. Come inside with me. You owe me a dance, you know.”
“And you know I don’t dance.”
“You think that’d stop O’Neill?”
“I think O’Neill kind of goes off the deep end sometimes. He doesn’t know his limits.”
I shook my head in exasperation and turned away.
“Wait,” Seth called. “I’m coming.”
“Cutting it close, aren’t you?” Cody asked me later when we arrived in the cafe of the now closed bookstore, practically running.
I gave him a quick hug, and he and Seth nodded cordially at each other before the author blended off into the crowd of staff. “It’s a long story.”
“Is it true?” Cody whispered in my ear, leaning toward me. “Is Carter hanging around right now?”
“No, actually. He was, but then he just bailed on me. That’s why I’m late. I had to call Seth to pick me up.”
The young vampire’s serious mien relaxed. “I’m sure that was a big sacrifice for both of you.”
Ignoring the jibe, I rounded up the troops so the lesson could get under way. As we had observed last time, most were about as ready as they would ever get. We didn’t teach anything new, choosing instead to review old techniques, making sure the basics were solid. Seth, as he had stated, did not dance. He had a harder time resisting, however, as most of the staff knew him well by now. Many of the women tried to entreat him. He remained obstinate.
“He’d dance if you asked him,” Cody told me at one point.
“I doubt it. He’s been refusing all night.”
“Yeah, but you’re persuasive.”
“Carter implied the same thing. I don’t know when I got this reputation as Miss Congeniality.”
“Just ask him.”
Rolling my eyes, I walked over to Seth, noticing his gaze was already on me.
“All right, Mortensen, last chance. Are you ready to make the switch from voyeur to exhibitionist?”
He inclined his head toward me curiously. “Are we still talking about dancing?”
“Well, that depends, I suppose. I heard someone once say that men dance the same way they have sex. So, if you want everyone here to think you’re the kind of guy who just sits around and – “
He stood up. “Let’s dance.”
We stepped out, and despite his bold declaration, his nervousness came through loud and clear. His palm was sweaty as he grasped my hand, his other hand almost too hesitant to fully rest its weight on my hip.
“Your hand swallows mine up,” I teased him gently, easing mine inside his. “Just relax. Listen to the music, and count the beats. Watch my feet.”
As we moved, I had the impression he had done the basic step before. He had no trouble remembering the pattern. His problem was coordinating his feet with the music, a behavior which came instinctually to me. I could tell he literally counted beats in his head, forcefully lining them up with his feet. Consequently, he spent more time looking down than at me.
“Are you going to come with us when we go out?” I asked conversationally.
“Sorry. I can’t talk and count at the same time.”
“Oh. Okay.” I did my best to hide a smile.
We continued on this way, in silence, until the lesson ended. It never became a natural process for Seth, but he never missed any steps, paying attention to them with steadfast determination and diligence, sweating profusely the entire time. Standing so close to him, I could again feel something akin to static in the air between us, heady and electric.
I made the rounds with Cody as things closed down, telling everybody goodbye. Seth was one of the last to leave, approaching Cody and me as we walked out the back door.
“Nice job tonight,” Cody told him.
“Thanks. My reputation was on the line.” Seth turned to me. “I hope I redeemed myself with the whole dancing-sex comparison.”
“I suppose there were a couple of notable similarities,” I observed, holding a straight face.
“A couple? What about attention to detail, heavy exertion, lots of sweat, and single-minded determinedness to get the job done and done well?”
“Mostly I was thinking you just don’t talk during sex.” Mean perhaps, but I couldn’t resist.
“Well, my mouth has better things to do.”
I swallowed, my own mouth dry. “Are we still talking about dancing?”
Seth told us good night and left.
I watched him go wistfully. “Anyone else here feel like swooning?”
“I sure do,” came Carter’s jovial voice behind us.
Cody and I both jumped.
“Christ,” I exclaimed. “How long have you been back?”
“No time for small talk. Hang on, kids.”
After giving a quick glance around to ascertain we were alone, the angel suddenly grabbed our wrists. I felt that nauseating, rushing feeling again, and the next thing I knew, we stood in a very elegantly decorated living room. I had never seen this place before, but it was beautiful. Coordinated leather furniture adorned the room, expensive-looking art hung on the walls. Opulence. Style. Magnificence.
The only problem was, the entire place had been trashed. Slashes marred the posh furniture, tables had been knocked ‘over, and the art was either askew or defiled or both. On one wall, a huge symbol I didn’t recognize had been spray-painted: a circle with one line crossing it vertically and another cutting through at an angle, left to right. The glamour mixed with such desecration left me utterly dumbfounded.
“Welcome to Ch§?eau Jerome,” Carter announced.