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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 21

I had no boyfriend.Despite all the uncertainties in my world, that at least was one thing I could feel confident about.Unfortunately, this nephilim apparently had a more optimistic view of my love life.

“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” I shouted to my empty office.

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“Do you hear me, you son of a bitch? I don’t know who you’re fucking talking about!”

No one responded.

Paige, passing by a moment later, stuck her head inside. “Did you call me?”

“No,” I grumbled. She wore a dress that clung distinctly to her swelling belly. It didn’t help my mood any. “Just talking to myself.” I closed the door after she left.

My immediate impulse was to run for help. Carter. Jerome. Somebody. Anybody. I couldn’t deal with this alone.

Fail – or involve any of your immortal contacts – and no amount of “safekeeping” will do him any good.

Damn it. I didn’t even know who “he” was. Frantically, I tried to figure out who among my mortal acquaintances could have been mistaken by the nephilim as something more. As if it wasn’t hard enough being my friend already.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not – my thoughts promptly strayed to Seth. I thought about our recent rapport. Censored and proper certainly, but still warm. Still right and natural. Still occasionally making me catch my breath when we touched.

No, that was stupid. My fascination with him was shallow. His books made me suffer from hero worship, and our friendship had become a sort of rebound from Roman. Whatever crush or minor attraction he’d had for me had to be fading fast. He’d shown no other indications of more-than-friends feelings, and my distancing had to be having an effect. Besides, he still kept disappearing for mysterious meetings, probably for some girl he was too shy to tell me about. It was presumptuous of me to even consider him in a boyfriend category.

Yet… would the nephilim know any of that? Who knew what the bastard was thinking? If it had observed Seth and me having our coffee chats, it might assume anything. Fear clenched me, making me want to immediately run upstairs and check on Seth. But no. That would be a waste, for now at least. He was writing, in public, surrounded by people. The nephilim would not attack him in such a setting.

Who else then? Warren perhaps? That voyeur nephilim had watched us have sex. If that didn’t count as some sort of relationship, I didn’t know what did. Of course, the nephilim would have also observed that Warren and I almost never interacted in any other intimate way. Poor Warren. Sex with me had already wiped him out; it would be beyond cruel if he became a target for the nephilim’s bizarrely misplaced humor. Fortunately, I had already seen Warren come in today. He was busy in his office, but perhaps that still counted as safe. Alone he might be, but any screams from a nephilim attack would immediately draw attention.

Doug? He and I had always had a perky flirtation. Certainly one might consider his sporadic pursuit of me indicative of something more than friendship. Yet, in the last few weeks, he and I hadn’t talked very much. I’d been too distracted by the nephilim attacks. Those, and Roman.

Ah, Roman. There it was, the possibility that had been hovering in the back of my mind. The reality I’d been avoiding because it meant contacting him, breaking the silence I’d tried so hard to maintain. I didn’t know what was between us, other than a scorching attraction and the occasional tug of solidarity. I didn’t know if it was love or the start of love or whatever. But I knew I cared about him. A lot. I missed him. Cutting myself off completely had been the safest way to recover, to get over my longing and move on. I feared what reinitiating contact could do.

And yet… because I cared about him, I could not let this nephilim prey upon him. I could not risk Roman’s life in this because, really, he probably was the most likely candidate. Half the bookstore staff still considered us an item; why not the nephilim ? Especially in light of how touchy-feely we’d been on a number of outings. Any stalking nephilim would be well justified in reading that as romantic attachment I picked up my cell phone and called him with bated breath. No answer.

“Shit,” I swore, listening to his voice mail. “Hi Roman, it’s me. I know I wasn’t, uh, going to call you anymore, but something’s come up… and I really need to talk to you. As soon as possible. It’s really weird, but it’s really important too. Please call me.” I left him both my cell and the bookstore numbers.

I disconnected, then sat and pondered. Now what did I do? On impulse, I glanced at the staff directory and dialed Doug’s home number. He had the day off.

No answer, just like Roman. Where was everybody?

Shifting my attention back to Roman, I tried to figure out where he would be. Work, most likely. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where that was. What a negligent pseudo-girlfriend I was. He’d said he taught at a community college. He referred to it all the time, but it was always “at school” or “at the college.” He’d never mentioned the name.

I turned to my computer and did a search for local community colleges. When the search returned several hits for Seattle alone, I swore again. More existed outside of the city too, in the suburbs and neighboring sister cities. Any of them could be possibilities. I printed out a list of all of them, with phone numbers, and stuffed the paper in my purse. I needed to get out of here, needed to take this search to the field.

I opened my office door to leave and flinched. Another identically written note hung on my door. I peered around in the offices’ hallway, half hoping to see something. Nothing. I pulled the note down and opened it.

You’re losing time and men. You’ve already lost the writer. You’d best get a move-on with this scavenger hunt.

“Scavenger hunt indeed,” I muttered, crumpling the note. “You’re such an asshole.”

But… what did he mean about losing the writer? Seth? My pulse quickened, and I raced up to the cafe, earning a few startled looks along the way.

No Seth. His corner was empty.

“Where’s Seth?” I demanded of Bruce. “He was just here.”

“He was,” concurred the barista. “Then he suddenly packed up and left.”

“Thanks.”

I definitely needed to get out of here. I found Paige in New Books.

“I think I need to go home,” I told her. “I’m getting a migraine. “

She looked startled. I had the best track record for attendance of any employee. I never called in sick. Yet, for that very reason, she could hardly refuse me. I was not a worker who abused the system.

After she’d assured me I should go, I added, “Maybe you can get Doug to come in.” That would kill two birds with one stone.

“Maybe,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll manage, though. Warren and I are here all day.”

“He’s here all day?”

When she reiterated that he would indeed be there, I felt somewhat relieved. Okay. He was off the list.

As I walked home to my apartment, I called Seth’s cell phone.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Home. I forgot some notes I needed.”

Home? Alone?

“Do you want to get breakfast with me?” I asked suddenly, needing to get him out.

“It’s almost one.”

“Brunch? Lunch?”

“Aren’t you at work?”

“I went home sick.”

“Are you sick?”

“No. Just meet me.” I gave him an address and hung up.

As I drove to the rendezvous, I tried Roman’s cell again. Voice mail. I pulled out the community college phone numbers and started with the first one on the list.

What a pain. First, I had to start with campus information and try to get to the right department. Most community colleges didn’t even have linguistics departments, though almost all had at least one introductory class taught through some other related area – like anthropology or humanities.

I made it through three colleges by the time I reached Capitol Hill. I breathed a sigh of relief, seeing Seth waiting outside the place I’d indicated. After I parked and paid the meter, I walked up to him, trying to smile in some semblance of normality.

It apparently didn’t work.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I proclaimed cheerfully. Too cheerfully.

His look implied disbelief, but he let the matter drop. “Are we eating here?”

“Yup. But first we have to go see Doug.”

“Doug?” Seth’s confusion deepened.

I led him to an apartment building next door and climbed to Doug’s floor. Music blared from inside his apartment, which I took as a good sign. I had to beat on the door three times before anyone answered.

It wasn’t Doug. It was his roommate. He looked stoned.

“Is Doug here?”

He blinked at me and scratched his long, unkempt hair.

“Doug?” he asked.

“Yeah, Doug Sato.”

“Oh, Doug. Yeah.”

“Yeah, he’s here?”

“No, man. He’s…” The guy squinted. Lord, who got high this early in the day? I hadn’t even done that back in the 1960s. “He’s practicing.”

“Where? Where do they practice?”

The guy stared at me.

“Where do they practice?” I repeated.

“Dude, did you know you have, like, the most perfect tits I’ve ever seen? They’re like… poetry. Are they real?”

I clenched my teeth. “Where. Does. Doug. Practice?”

He dragged his eyes from my chest.

“West Seattle. Over by Alki.”

“Do you have an address?”

“It’s by… California and Alaska.” He blinked again. “Whoa. California and Alaska. Get it?”

“An address?”

“It’s green. You can’t miss it.”

When no other information came, Seth and I left. We went to the restaurant I had indicated. “Poetry,” he reflected along the way, amused. “Like an ee cummings poem, I’d say.”

I was too preoccupied to process what he was saying, my mind racing. Even waffles with strawberries couldn’t keep me from worrying about this idiotic scavenger hunt. Seth attempted conversation, but my answers were vague and distracted, my mind clearly not with him through the meal. When we finished, I unsuccessfully tried Roman again, then turned to Seth.

“Are you going back to the bookstore?”

He shook his head. “No. I’m going home. I realized I need too much of my research to write this scene. Easier to stay in my own office.”

Panic blazed through me. “Home? But…” What could I say? Tell him that if he stayed at home, he might be in danger of attack by a sociopathic, supernatural creature?

“Stay with me,” I blurted out. “Run errands with me.”

His polite complacency finally broke. “Georgina, what in the world is going on? You go home sick when you’re not. You’re clearly agitated about something, desperately so. Tell me what this is about. Is something wrong with Doug?”

I closed my eyes for a second, wishing this was all over. Wishing I was somewhere else. Or someone else. Seth must think I was out of my mind.

“I can’t tell you what’s wrong, only that something is. You have to leave it at that.” Then, hesitantly, I reached out and squeezed his hand, turning my eyes pleadingly toward his. “Please. Stay with me.”

He tightened his grip on my hand and took a step forward, face concerned and compassionate. For a moment, I forgot about the nephilim. What did other men matter when Seth looked at me like that? I had the urge to embrace him and feel his arms enclose me.

I almost laughed. Who was I kidding? I didn’t need to worry about leading him on. I was the one getting hooked here. I was the one in danger of escalating this relationship. I needed to stop procrastinating on my “clean break” with him.

I hastily broke apart and lowered my eyes. “Thank you.”

He offered to drive to West Seattle, freeing me up to keep calling colleges. I had nearly finished by the time we reached the intersection of Alaska and California. He slowed slightly, and we both peered around, searching for a green house.

You can’t miss it.It was a stupid piece of advice. What constituted green anyway? I saw a sage house, a forest green house, and a color that could have been green or blue. Some houses had green trim, green doors, or –

“Whoa,” said Seth.

A small, run-down house painted a glaring shade of mintish lime stood there, nearly obscured by two much nicer houses.

“You can’t miss it,” I muttered.

We parked and walked toward it. As we did, the sounds of Doug’s band clearly emanated from the garage. When we reached the open door, I saw Nocturnal Admission in full glory, Doug belting out lyrics in that amazing voice of his. He cut off abruptly when he saw me.

“Kincaid?”

His fellow band members looked on quizzically as he jumped down and sprinted over to me. Seth discretely took a few steps away, studying some nearby hydrangea bushes.

“What are you doing here?” asked Doug, not offended so much as astounded.

“I called in sick,” I said stupidly. What did I do now?

“Are you sick?”

“No. I – I had something to do. Still do. But I’m… I’m worried about leaving the store. How long will you be here? Can you fill in for me after this?”

“You came here to ask me to cover for you? Why’d you call in sick? Are you finally running away with Mortensen?”

“I – no. I can’t explain it. Just promise me, after this, you’ll swing by the store and see if they need help.”

He was staring at me with a look Seth had been shooting me all afternoon. One that sort of implied I needed a tranquilizer.

“Kincaid… you’re freaking me out here…”

I looked up at him with the same baleful expression I’d used on Seth. Succubus charisma in action. “Please? You still owe me, remember?”

His dark eyes frowned in understandable consternation.

At last he said, “Okay. But it’ll be a few hours before I can go.”

“That’s all right. Just go there straight afterward. No stops. And don’t… don’t tell them you saw me. I’m supposed to be sick. Make up some reason to go there.”

He shook his head in exasperation, and I thanked him with a quick hug. As Seth and I departed, I saw Doug glance at Seth questioningly. Seth shrugged, answering the other man’s silent inquiry with shared confusion.

I made more phone calls as we drove away, finishing my college list and leaving yet another desperate message for Roman.

“What now?” asked Seth when I lapsed into silence. Hard to say what he thought of my harassment of both Roman and Doug.

“I…I don’t know.”

I had reached the end of my options. Everyone was accounted for except Roman, and I had no way to reach him. The clock was ticking. I didn’t know where he lived. I thought he’d mentioned Madrona once, but that was a big area. I could hardly start knocking on all those doors. The nephilim had said I had until the end of my shift. Despite bailing on work, I assumed that still meant nine o’clock. I had almost three hours left.

“I guess I’ll pick up my car and go back home.”

Seth dropped me off at the restaurant and followed me back to Queen Anne. A traffic light stopped him, so I made it to my apartment about a minute before he did. On my door was another note.

Nice job. You’ll probably end up alienating all of these men with your erratic behavior, but I admire your pluck. One left to go. I wonder how fast on his feet your dancer truly is.

I was crumpling this note up when Seth reached me. I pulled my key out of my purse and feebly attempted to put it in my lock. My hands shook so badly, I couldn’t do it. He took the key from me and opened the door.

We entered, and I collapsed on to the couch. Aubrey slithered out from behind it and jumped on my lap. Seth sat nearby, taking in my apartment – including my prominently displayed collection of his books on the new shelf – then returned his worried gaze to me.

“Georgina… what can I do?”

I shook my head, feeling helpless and defeated. “Nothing. I’m just glad you’re here.”

“I…” He hesitated. “I hate to tell you this, but I’ve got to leave in a little while. I’m meeting someone.”

I looked up sharply. Another of those mysterious meetings. Curiosity temporarily replaced my fear, but I couldn’t question him. Couldn’t ask if he was meeting some woman. At least he said he was meeting someone. He wouldn’t be alone.

“You’ll be with… them… for a while then?”

He nodded. “I could come back late tonight, if you wanted. Or… maybe I could cancel.”

“No, no, don’t worry about it.” By then, it would all be over.

He stayed awhile longer, again attempting conversation I couldn’t participate in. When he finally stood up to leave, I could see anxiety written all over him and felt terrible I’d involved him in this.

“This will all be resolved tomorrow,” I told him. “So don’t worry. I’ll be back to normal then. I promise.”

“Okay. If you need anything, let me know. Call me, no matter what. Otherwise… well, I’ll see you at work.”

“No. I have tomorrow off.”

“Oh. Well. Do you mind if I stop by?”

“Sure. Go ahead.” I would have agreed to anything. I was too tired to hold to my earlier notion of distancing. I’d worry about that later. Honestly. One thing at a time.

He left reluctantly, no doubt baffled when I told him to spend a lot of time with whoever he was meeting. As for me, I paced all over my apartment, not knowing what to do. Maybe I couldn’t get ahold of Roman because the nephilim had already found him. That would hardly be fair since I’d never even had a chance to genuinely warn him, but this nephilim didn’t really seem like the type to care about right or wrong.

Struck by inspiration, I called Information, realizing I’d missed the obvious way to find him. It didn’t matter. Unlisted.

Two hours before my shift would have ended, I left Roman another message. “Please, please, please call me,” I begged. “Even if you’re really mad at me for what happened. Just tell me you’re out there and okay.”

No return call came. Eight o’clock rolled around. With one hour remaining, I left him another message. I could feel hysteria creeping in. God, what was I going to do? All I did do was continue pacing, pondering how soon would be too soon to call Roman one more time.

Five minutes before nine, utterly frantic, I grabbed my purse, desperate to leave my apartment and do something. Anything. Time was almost up.

What would happen? How would I know if I’d successfully jumped through the nephilim’s hoops? When I saw Roman’s murder plastered across the paper tomorrow? Would there be another note? Or maybe some gruesome token? What if the nephilim hadn’t even meant any of the people I’d considered? What if it was someone completely out of the realm of –

I opened my door to leave and gasped.

“Roman!”

He stood there, mid-knock, as surprised to see me as I was him.

I dropped my purse and ran to him, flinging myself at him in a fierce embrace that nearly toppled him. “Oh God,” I breathed into his shoulder, “I’m so glad to see you.”

“I guess,” he replied, pulling slightly away to look down at me, his turquoise eyes concerned. “Lord, Georgina, what’s wrong? I’ve got like eighty messages from you – “

“I know, I know,” I told him, still not letting go. Seeing him stirred up all the old, queasy feelings I had thought were buried. He looked so good. He smelled so good. “I’m sorry – it’s just, I thought something had happened to you…”

I hugged him again, catching sight of my watch as I did so. Nine o’clock. My shift was over, as was the nephilim’s ridiculous game.

“Okay, it’s all right.” He patted me awkwardly on the back. “What’s going on?”

“I can’t tell you.” My voice shook.

His mouth opened to protest, but he reconsidered. “Okay. Let’s take this slow. You’re pale. Let’s go get something to eat. You can explain all this then.”

Yeah, that would be a fun conversation. “No. We can’t do that…”

“Come on. There’s no way you can leave me all those desperate messages and then start playing the ‘we need space’ game. Seriously, Georgina. You’re a wreck. You’re shaking. I wouldn’t want you to be by yourself anyway if I’d found you like this, let alone after those calls.”

“No. No. No going out.” I sat down on the couch, needing to let him go, reluctant to do so. “Let’s stay here.”

Still looking distressed, Roman fetched me a glass of water, then sat down by me, holding my hand. As time passed, I calmed down, listening as Roman talked about inconsequential things in an effort to make me feel better.

For his part, he was quite nice about my psycho phone calls. He continued trying to tease out an explanation, but when I remained evasive, only saying I had cause to worry about him, he stopped pushing – for now. He continued cheering me up, telling me funny things as well as his usual political soliloquies, complaining about the irrational rules and hypocrisy of the powers that be.

By late in the evening, I was relaxed again, left only with embarrassment for the way I’d behaved. Damn, I hated that nephilim.

“It’s getting late. You going to be okay if I go?” he asked, standing with me near my living room window, overlooking Queen Anne Avenue.

“Probably better than if you stay.”

“Well, that’s a matter of opinion,” he chuckled, running a hand over my hair.

“Thanks for coming by. I know… I know… it seems crazy, but you’ve just got to trust me on this one.”

He shrugged. “I don’t really have a choice. Besides… it’s kind of nice to know you were worried about me.”

“Of course I was. How could I not be?”

“I don’t know. You aren’t easy to read. I couldn’t figure out if you really liked me… or if I was just something to pass the time. A diversion.”

Something in his words rang a bell in my head, something I should have paid attention to. Instead I was more caught up in how close he suddenly stood to me, how his hand ran down my cheek to my neck and to my shoulder. He had long, sensuous fingers. Fingers that could do a lot of good in a lot of good places.

“I do like you, Roman. If you don’t believe anything else I tell you, believe that.”

He smiled then, a smile so full and beautiful, it made my heart melt. God, I had missed that smile and his funny, breezy charm. Moving his hand back up to my neck, he pulled me toward him, and I realized he was going to kiss me again.

“No… no… don’t,” I murmured, squirming out of his grasp.

He backed off from the kiss, still holding on to me as he exhaled, disappointment all over his face. “Still worried about that?”

“You can’t understand. I’m sorry. I just can’t…”

“Georgina, nothing traumatic happened the last time we kissed. Short of your reaction, I mean.”

“I know, but it’s not that simple.”

“Nothing happened,” he repeated, an unfamiliar hardness in his voice.

“I know, but – “

My mouth hung there mid-sentence as I replayed his words. Nothing happened. No, something had happened that night at the concert, kissing in the back hallway. I’d seen Roman stagger from the kiss. But me… what had happened to me? What had I felt? Nothing. A kiss that intense, a kiss with someone strong, a kiss with someone I wanted so badly should have triggered something. Even with a low energy yield like Warren, a deep kiss would wake up my succubus instinct, start to connect us, even if no significant transfer took place. Kissing Roman like that – especially when he ostensibly had a reaction – should have resulted in some kind of feeling on my end. Some sensation. Yet, there had been nothing. Nothing at all.

I had written it off to too much alcohol at the time. But that was ridiculous. I drank all the time before getting a fix. Alcohol could muddle my senses – as it obviously had that night – but no amount of intoxication could completely negate the sensation of anima transfer. Nothing could. I had been too trashed to realize the truth. Alcohol or no, I would always feel something from sexual or intimate physical contact unless…

Unless I was with another immortal.

I jerked away from Roman, breaking his hold on me. His expression registered surprise, immediately replaced by sudden understanding. Those beautiful eyes sparkling dangerously, he laughed.

“Took you long enough.”

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