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Succubus Blues CHAPTER 25

Sometimes you wake up from a dream.Sometimes you wake up in a dream.And sometimes, every once in a while, you wake up in someone else’s dream.

“If he wanted to carry me off and make me his love slave, I’d do it, so long as I got advance copies of his books.”

My first words spoken to Seth as I passionately discussed his work.

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Seth’s initial impression of me. Head held high, hair tossed over my shoulder. A flippant remark always at the ready. Grace under fire. A cool social confidence introverted Seth could never muster but envied. How can she do that? Never miss a beat? Later, my rambling explanation of the five-page rule, a goofy habit he found infinitely endearing. Someone else who appreciated literature, viewing it like fine wine. Smart and deep. And beautiful. Yes, beautiful. I saw myself now as Seth had seen me that night: the short skirt, the racy purple top, brilliant as a bird’s plumage. Like some exotic creature, hopelessly out of place in the bookstore’s dreary landscape.

All of this was in Seth, the past of his growing feelings for me mingling with the present, and I drank everything up.

Not just beautiful. Sexy. Sensual. A goddess made flesh whose every move hinted at passion to come. The dress strap slipping off my shoulder. Faint beads of perspiration on my cleavage. Standing in his kitchen, clad only in that ridiculous Black Sabbath shirt. No underwear on under that. Wonder what it’d be like to wake up with her next to me, messy and untamed.

It all spilled into me. More and more.

He would watch me at the bookstore. Loved watching me interact with customers. Loved that I seemed to know something about everything. The witty dialogue he pondered for his characters coming to my lips without hesitation. Amazing. Never met anyone who talks like that in real life. My bartering with the used book store owner. A charisma that drew in shy, quiet Seth, made me glow in his eyes. Made him feel more confident.

Still his feelings rushed through me. I had never felt anything like it. Certainly I had felt attraction and fondness in my victims, but never such love, not directed at me.

Seth thought I was sexy, yes. Desired me. But that raw lust juxtaposed with something softer too. Something sweeter. Kayla sitting on my lap, small blond head against my chest as I braided her hair. A brief shifting of the image as he momentarily considered his own daughter on my lap. Fierce and witty on one hand, gentle and vulnerable on the other. My inebriated state at his condo. A swell of protectiveness as he led me to bed, watching me hours after I’d gone to sleep. He thought no less of me for the weakness, for my lapse of control and judgment. It was a letting down of my walls for him, a sign of imperfection that made him love me more.

Further and further I drank, my desperate and weakened state unable to stop.

“Why doesn’t she date?” Seth asked Cody. Cody? Yes, there he was, in the back of Seth’s mind. A memory. Cody secretly giving Seth swing lessons, neither of them telling me, instead making up vague excuses for why they always had to be “somewhere.” Seth, trying so hard to make his feet obey so he could dance with me and be closer to me. “She’s afraid,” the vampire replied. “She thinks love causes pain.”

Love causes pain.

Yes, Seth loved me. Not the crush I’d imagined. Not a superficial attraction I thought I’d dissuaded. It was more, so much more. I embodied everything in a woman he could ever imagine: humor, beauty, intelligence, kindness, strength, charisma, sexuality, compassion… His soul seemed to have recognized mine, drawn uncontrollably toward me. He loved me with a depth of feeling I could not even begin to tap into, though believe me, I tried. I wanted it. I wanted to feel it all, to suck up that burning within him. To consume it. Set myself on fire with it.

Georgina!

Somewhere far away, someone called to me, but I was too into Seth. Too into absorbing that strength within him, that strength fused with his feelings for me. Feelings brought on, amplified even, by kissing. Lips soft and eager. Hungry. Demanding.

Georgina!

I wanted to become one with Seth. I needed to. I needed him to fill me up… physically, mentally, spiritually. There was something there… something concealed inside him I couldn’t quite reach, hovering in the background. A tantalizing piece of knowledge I should have long since recognized. You are my life. I needed to get in farther, reach out for more. Find out what was hiding from me. That kiss was my lifeline, my connection with something bigger than myself, something I had been aching for all my life but never known. I couldn’t stop. Couldn’t stop kissing Seth. Couldn’t stop. Couldn’t –

“Georgina! Let go!”

Rough hands tore me away from Seth, like flesh ripping from my own body. I cried out in agony at the broken connection, fighting the hands that pulled me and held me. I clawed at my captor, needing to find out the secret lurking beyond that kiss, yearning for the completeness of that union with Seth –

Seth.

My hands dropped, and I blinked, bringing the world back into focus. Reality. I was no longer inside Seth’s head; I was still in my apartment. A feeling of solidness settled in me, and I didn’t have to look down to know my body had stopped its shifting, my form snapping back to a short, slim woman with honeyed brown hair. The girl I had been long ago was buried within me once more, never to come out if I could help it. Seth’s life force now filled me to overflowing.

“Georgina,” murmured Hugh behind me, letting his hands ease up on my arms. “Christ, you scared me.”

Looking across the room, I saw Carter, bedraggled as usual, leaning over Seth’s body.

“Oh God – ” I sprang up and moved to them, kneeling beside the angel. Seth lay on the floor, skin pale and clammy. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Is he… ?”

“He’s alive,” Carter told me. “Barely.”

Stroking Seth’s cheek, feeling the fine golden-red haze of his near-beard, I felt tears brimming in my eyes. His breathing came shallow and jagged. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to take so much…”

“You did what you had to do. You were in bad shape, could have died.”

“And now Seth might…”

Carter shook his head. “No. He won’t. He’ll need recovery time, but he’ll pull through.”

I drew my hand back, half-afraid my touch might harm Seth more. Glancing around, I became aware of the disheveled state of my apartment. It looked worse than Jerome’s. Smashed china and glass. Broken tables. Overturned chairs and couch. The unstable bookshelf in pieces at last. From the kitchen, Aubrey hunkered down under the kitchen table, wondering what was going on. I wondered myself. The nephilim were nowhere in sight. What had happened? Had I really missed it all? The epic, divine battle of the century, and I had missed it for a kiss? Admittedly, a really good kiss, but still…

“Where is… everyone else?”

“Jerome’s off doing, uh, damage control with your neighbors.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Standard practice. Supernatural battles aren’t exactly quiet, you know. He’ll do a little mind erasing, make sure no authorities get notified.”

I swallowed, afraid to ask my next question. “What about… what about the nephilim ?”

Carter studied me, gray eyes holding me long and hard.

“I know, I know,” I said at last, looking down, unable to return that gaze. “There’s no ten years and parole, right? You destroyed them.”

“We destroyed… one of them.”

I looked up sharply. “What? What about the other one?”

“He got away.”

He.My looming tears slipped out now; I could not control them. For you, I’ll walk away. “How?”

Carter laid a hand on Seth’s forehead as though taking vital stats and then turned back to me. “It all happened really fast. He masked and went invisible in the confusion, while we were taking on the other one. And honestly…” The angel looked at my closed front door, then at Hugh and me.

“What?” I whispered.

“I’m not… I’m not entirely convinced Jerome didn’t let him get away. He wasn’t expecting two. I wasn’t either, though I should have, in retrospect. After killing the first one…” Carter shrugged. “I don’t know. Hard to say what happened. “

“Then he’ll be back,” I realized, fear and relief blending weirdly in me over the thought of Roman’s escape. “He’ll be back… and he won’t be happy with me.”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” the angel observed. Gently, he lifted Seth up and walked to my overturned couch. A moment later, it flipped over untouched, righting itself. Carter laid Seth on it and continued speaking. “He took a real beating – the other nephilim. A really bad beating. I can’t believe he had the power left to hide himself from us; I still keep expecting to feel him again any minute. If he’s smart, he’s running as fast and far from us as he can right now, getting out of our range – out of any immortal’s range – so he can drop his shields and rest.”

“Then what?” asked Hugh.

“He’s in bad shape. It’ll take him a long time to recover. When he does, he knows he doesn’t have the backup to return here again.”

“He could still take on me,” I noted, shivering as I remembered Roman’s wrath toward me at the end. It was hard to believe we’d been wrapped in each other’s arms, caught in the throes of passion, less than twenty-four hours ago.

“He could take you on,” agreed Carter. “But he can’t take me on. Or Jerome. He certainly can’t take both of us on. That was what decided it, in the end. They didn’t expect that. Us teamed together. It’ll give him pause to just come bursting back here, even if you alone pose no threat.”

I didn’t find that reassuring in the least. I thought of Roman, passionate and rebellious, always eager to make a point against the system. That personality type lent itself well to revenge. I had tricked him, made love to him, and then betrayed him, resulting in the annihilation of his plans – and his sister. Thank God for my sister. She’s the only one I have, the only mainstay in my life.

He might pause, as Carter had suggested, but not for long. Of that, I was certain.

“He’ll be back,” I whispered, more to myself. “Someday he’ll be back.”

Carter gave me a steady look. “Then we will deal with him then.”

My front door opened, and Jerome entered. He looked neat and prim, hardly like he’d just been in an apocalyptic battle with his own offspring.

“Housekeeping all done?” asked Carter.

“Yes.” The demon’s eyes darted over to Seth. “He’s alive?”

“Yes.”

Angel and demon locked eyes then, and a tense moment of palpable silence hung between them.

“How fortuitously unexpected,” Jerome murmured at last. “I could have sworn he was dead. Well. Miracles happen every day. I suppose we’ll have to wipe him now.”

I stood up. “What are you talking about?”

“Nice to have you back with us again, Georgie. You look lovely, by the way.”

I glared at him, angry at his joke, knowing it was Seth’s energy giving me the succubus glamour now. “What do you mean you have to ‘wipe’ him?”

“What do you think? We can’t let him walk away after everything he’s seen. I’ll diminish a little of his affection for you while I’m at it; he’s a liability to you.”

“What? No. You can’t do that.”

Jerome sighed, putting on the look of one who suffered long and hard. “Georgina, do you have any idea what he was just exposed to? He has to be wiped. We can’t let him know about us.”

“How much of me will you take from him?” Pieces of Seth’s memories – my memories, now – glittered in my head like jewels.

“Enough so that he forgets he has any more than a passing knowledge of you. You’ve been even more negligent with your job than usual these last few weeks.” I hardly thought that was Seth’s fault; Roman had helped too. “Both of you will function much better if he finds some mortal woman to obsess on instead.”

Don’t you want to stand out in some way? Carter’s taunting question from what seemed like an eternity ago whispered in my head. “You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to take me out with the rest.”

“If I’m already in there, I might as well clear you too. There’s no way he can just go on as usual after being exposed to denizens of the divine realms. Even you have to agree with that.”

“Some mortals know about us,” I argued. “Like Erik. Erik knows, and he keeps it to himself.”

In fact, I realized suddenly, Erik had kept Helena’s secret to himself as well. He had figured it out after working with her over the years but had never revealed the full truth, only doling out small clues for me.

“Erik is a special case. He has a gift. An ordinary mortal like this one couldn’t handle it.” Jerome walked over to my couch, looking at Seth dispassionately. “It’s better this way.”

“No. Please,” I cried, running over to Jerome and pulling his sleeve. “Please don’t.”

The archdemon turned to me, dark eyes cold and shocked that I would dare grab hold of him like that. I knew then, cringing under that gaze, that something in our fond, indulgent relationship had changed forever – something small, but important nonetheless. I didn’t know what had done it. Maybe it had been Seth. Maybe it had been Roman. Maybe it had been something else altogether. All I knew was that it had happened.

“Please,” I begged, ignoring how desperate I must sound. “Please don’t. Don’t take me from him… out of his head like that. I’ll do anything you want. Anything.” I brushed a hand over my eyes, attempting to look calm and in control, knowing I was failing.

One eyebrow shifted ever so slightly on Jerome’s face, the only hint that I had piqued his interest. The term “deal with the devil” had not arisen lightly; few demons could resist a bargain.

“What could you possibly offer me? The sex thing only worked on my son, so don’t even think about trying it now.”

“Yes,” I agreed, voice growing stronger as I plunged forward. “It worked on him. It works on all sorts of men. I’m good, Jerome. Better than you know. Why do you think I’m the only succubus in this city? It’s because I’m one of the best. Before I hit this funk… this, I don’t know, whatever mood I’ve been in for a while now, I could have any man I wanted. And not just simply for their strength and life force. I could manipulate them. Make them do anything I asked, talk them into acts of sin they never would have dreamed of before meeting me. And they would do it. They’d do it, and they’d like doing it.”

“Go on.”

I took a deep breath. “You’re tired of the ‘all lowlifes, all the time,’ right? Me being negligent? Well, I can change that. I can raise your stock higher than you’ve ever dreamed. I’ve done it before. All you have to do is let Seth go. Let him keep his memories intact. All of them.”

Jerome studied me a moment, mind working. “All the ‘stock’ in the world won’t do me any good if he runs around blathering about what he’s seen.”

“Then we’ll see if he can handle it first. When he recovers and wakes up, we’ll talk to him. If he doesn’t look like he’ll be able to cope with it all… well, then you can erase his memories.”

“Who will make the call if he can cope or not?”

I hesitated, not wanting that decision in the demon’s hands. “Carter will. Carter can tell if someone’s telling the truth.” I looked at the angel. “You’ll know if it’s okay, right? Okay for him to know… about us?”

Carter gave me an odd look, one I could not interpret. “Yes,” he finally admitted.

“What about your end?” asked Jerome. “Will you hold it up – even if Carter decides he’s unsafe?”

That was harsh. I had a feeling Jerome wouldn’t negotiate on this one, but I was willing to risk it, so confident did I feel about Seth’s capacity to process immortal activity. I opened my mouth, about to agree, when I caught Hugh shaking his head at me out of the corner of my eye. Frowning, he tapped his watch, mouthing something I couldn’t understand at first.

Then, it clicked. Time. I had listened to the imp talk about his job enough to know the rules of negotiation: never make an open-ended deal with a demon. “If Seth keeps his memories, I’ll walk the succubus straight and narrow for a century. If they have to be erased anyway, then I’ll still do it for… a third of that.”

“Half,” countered Jerome. “We aren’t mortal. Even a century is nothing on the face of eternity.”

“Half,” I agreed dully, “but no more than survival dictates. I’m not going to do this every day, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’ll only get fixes as I need them, but they’ll be strong ones. Very strong – loaded with sin. With men of good caliber, that’ll be… oh, every four to six weeks.”

“I want better than that. Extra credit. Every couple of weeks, whether you need it or not.”

I closed my eyes, unable to fight anymore. “Every couple of weeks.”

“Very well,” said Jerome, a warning note in his voice. “But you will be held to this agreement unless I choose to terminate it for some reason. Not you. There will be no wiggling out for you.”

“I know. I know, and I accept.”

“Shake then.”

He extended his hand to me. Not hesitating, I took it, and power crackled briefly around us.

The demon smiled thinly. “We have a deal.”

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