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Succubus Dreams CHAPTER 2

For a few seconds, I was no longer at the party.My mind’s eye flashed back to where I stood on a cliff outside the town I’d grown up in, barely old enough to be called an adult by today’s standards.And Niphon was there, smiling at me, promising me he had all the answers and could make my problems disappear….

I shook my head, driving off the memories and returning to the party at hand.

His smile grew, an evil smile that promised even more evil things.

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I could have been facing Eden’s serpent himself.

“I knew you had it in you,” he continued, stepping toward me. His voice stayed soft. “I knew it the minute I saw you. I can’t wait to find out firsthand just how…experienced you’ve become.”

My defenses snapped into place, and I stepped back. “Touch me, and I’ll break your fucking neck.”

“Such ingratitude, considering I made you what you are.”

“Stay away from me.”

He started to move forward again, and my heart leapt to a pace that would have killed most humans. Suddenly, Jerome’s voice fell over us, and I realized the room had become silent. “Leave her alone, Niphon. She said no.”

The imp paused and made a pleading face. “Aw, come on, Jerome. What kind of demon doesn’t share his goods?”

“You aren’t here to fuck my succubus. If you can’t do your job, I can replace you.”

Jerome’s voice held a warning note that even an asshole like Niphon couldn’t ignore. Maybe someone would be consigned to Hell tonight after all. Disappointingly, the imp inclined his head in obeisance and backed off. The look he gave me warned we would have a later conversation.

I walked over to Jerome. “Maybe you should have given me a heads up earlier.”

“And ruin things for you lovebirds? Hardly something a die-hard romantic like me could do. Besides, I told you to come early.”

Hugh snapped his cell phone shut and wandered over to join us. He kissed my cheek. “Hey, sweetie. Big things going on here.”

My already enormous sense of dread grew by leaps and bounds. “Such as?”

“Re-org. Seattle’s lines have been redrawn. We’re getting another succubus. Or, well, we’ve got one.”

My jaw dropped, and I replayed Niphon’s earlier words. “You are so joking.”

“Afraid not. This is Tawny.”

Robo-Blonde pranced over on her stiletto heels and tried to shake my hand again. I kept it out of reach, fearing for my bones. I forced a smile. “Hi, Tawny.” I turned back to Jerome and jerked my head at Niphon. “Why is he here then?”

“I acquired her,” the imp explained. “Acquired” was a nice way of saying he’d bought her soul for Hell, just as he’d purchased mine. “It’s my job to stay and watch her until she’s settled in and taken her first victim.”

“No one ever did that for me,” I recalled. “You sort of threw me to the wolves.” I’d had to be some innkeeper’s sex toy in Constantinople for a few years until I’d learned the succubus ropes.

Niphon shrugged. “HR’s new policy. Just think of all the time it’ll give us to catch up.”

Giving Tawny a sidelong glance, I hoped her adamant desire to destroy men everywhere meant she’d be a quick study. Eyeing her leopard-skin skirt, I had my doubts.

“Well. Fantastic. Now that I’m up to speed, I guess there’s no need to stay – “

Hugh shook his head, suddenly becoming my-friend-the-imp as opposed to the all-business imp. I could tell from his expression that I wouldn’t like what he had to say next. “There’s something else you need to know. For the next year or so, you have to be her…uh, mentor.”

“Mentor,” I repeated flatly.

He nodded, looking sympathetic. Jerome watched our exchange with amusement.

“What, um, does that mean for me exactly?”

Hugh set his briefcase on a coffee table and pulled out what looked like the kind of copied-and-bound manual Kinko’s would run off. He tossed it to me. I caught it and nearly keeled over. The thing had about eight-hundred pages.

Mentor’s Official and Complete Procedural Handbook on Initial Succubus Intake and Probationary Period (Abridged).

“Abridged?” I spun toward Jerome. “Tell me you’re getting back at me for the time I accused you of wearing Old Spice.”

“That one’s still coming,” said the demon. “This one’s for real.”

“I can’t do this, Jerome. I don’t have the time! Do you know how much stuff I’ve got going on? I’m still training the new assistant manager at work – “

He stood up with speed a vampire might have admired. He leaned toward me, the amusement gone from his face.

“Oh gee, Georgie. How inconsiderate of me to take you away from your human boyfriend and your crucial-to-the-world bookstore job and all the other fucking absurdity in your life! Let me just go ahead and tell my superiors that you’ve got more important things to do than answer to the powers who control your immortal soul and could wipe out your existence in the blink of an eye.”

Heat flooded my cheeks. I didn’t really appreciate being verbally bitch-slapped in front of Niphon and Seattle’s entire dream team of evil. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just – “

“It’s not up for debate any longer.” His words crawled over my skin.

I swallowed. “Yes, Jerome.” Even I knew when to back down.

Silence fell. A smirk played over Niphon’s face. “A human boyfriend. How terribly quaint. I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

“I think it’s cute,” said Tawny. “I hope you’re making him suffer.”

“Their romance is a great tale of self-exploration,” remarked Hugh, straight-faced.

I shot him a glare. As a sexual workaround, Seth and I found we could do unto ourselves what we couldn’t do to each other. I’d never actually told my friends about this solution, but they’d kind of figured it out.

With the drama complete, the rest of the room lost interest in me. Tawny did not, however, and immediately began talking to me about the joys of ripping out men’s hearts and watching them cry. I left her as quickly as I could, working the room and talking to those I hadn’t seen in a while. I was good at smiling and making people laugh while all the while, my mind spun and processed this new complication. When I finally found Cody, Peter, and Hugh huddled in a corner, I breathed a sigh of relief. I could tell from the looks on their faces that this was the most hilarious thing they’d seen in a while.

Cody, young for a vampire but ancient compared to Tawny, threw an arm around me. His shaggy blond hair was tamed into a short stub of a ponytail. He was perpetually laidback and upbeat, and his “youth” always made the rest of us want to baby him. “Oh, man. This is going to be great. You are so screwed.”

“As if,” I said, squirming away. “You think I’m afraid of her?”

“I am,” said Peter with a shiver. He had thinning brown hair and wore casual yet exquisitely coordinated clothes, all the way down to his argyle socks. He was an old vampire, close to my age, and was Cody’s mentor. I’d never thought much about their mentor-apprentice relationship before. It always seemed pretty effortless, but then, Cody was no Tawny.

I followed Peter’s gaze to where the new succubus animatedly told a story to a stone-faced demoness named Grace. From the dangerous jiggling of Tawny’s breasts, it looked as though the structural integrity of her shirt could only last so long.

“I don’t think you’re afraid,” said Hugh slyly. “I think you’re jealous.”

“Of what exactly? Bad fashion sense? An ergonomically unsound bustline? I have nothing to be jealous of.”

“Whatever. I saw your face when you heard we were getting a new succubus. Looks like someone isn’t going to be the only girl in our little clique anymore.”

“So?”

“So, we’ll have a new little sister to fawn and fret over. You’ll have to share the spotlight.”

“I’m not sharing anything,” I said huffily.

Peter laughed. “So it does bother you. Can’t wait until the fur starts flying.”

“Her fate is in your hands,” said Cody.

“You should make her call you ‘Miss Georgina,'” added Hugh with a mocking southern drawl. “Or at least ‘ma’am.'”

Niphon’s presence and Jerome’s lecture had put me in a grouchy mood. “I’m not doing any mentoring. She’s so gungho to take on the world’s male population, she doesn’t even need me.”

The three men exchanged more smirks. Cody made some hissing and meowing sounds, scratching at the air.

“This isn’t funny,” I said.

“Sure it is,” said Cody. “Besides, don’t you want to help others? Where’s your sense of goodness and charity?”

“I think I cashed that in when I, you know, sold my soul to Hell.”

Peter waved his hand. “Details, details. ‘Tis the season to put aside petty rivalries and animosity. You’ve got to get into the holiday spirit. You probably haven’t even put up your Christmas tree yet.”

“I’m not getting a tree this year.”

The smile slipped from Peter’s face. “What?”

“Oh, shit. You’ve done it now,” said Hugh. “I already got lectured earlier for not having one.”

“You’re a Scrooge,” Peter told him while still looking at me. “No one expects that kind of festive cheer from you. But Georgina…didn’t you have a Christmas tree last year?”

“Yeah. Somebody burned it down. At my Christmas Eve Martini Party.”

“I was there,” said Peter. “I don’t remember that.”

“You were drunk. You’d already passed out.”

“What kind of sick bastard burns down a Christmas tree?”

Hugh and I exchanged glances. “That’s an excellent question,” I said dryly.

Peter looked startled. “Was it you?” he asked Hugh.

“No,” said the imp. “It was Carter.”

“Your Christmas tree was burned down by an angel?” asked Cody. He hadn’t been with our group last December, so this was all new to him. And Peter too, apparently.

“Yup. The irony isn’t lost on me,” I said. “He had his ashtray too close to where a branch was hanging down.”

“Well, I think he did you a favor,” said Hugh. “You can get a fake one now. They’re easier. No watering. No woodland animals. Besides, you can get them to match your d?¦cor. Did you notice Peter’s is ‘pissed-off ocean green’?”

Peter sighed. “It’s ‘jaded sea green.'”

I followed their gazes to Peter’s monstrosity of a Christmas tree. Nine feet of perfectly shaped needles draped in gold tinsel and red glass ornaments. Everything on it coordinated. In fact, I suddenly realized, it matched Peter’s outfit. The tree looked like a display model from a department store. The green in the multicolored bejeweled star on top even seemed to bring out the blue in the ‘jaded sea green.’

“At least you don’t have an angel on top,” I said. “Because that would have been kind of wrong. And possibly a fire hazard.”

“Joke all you want,” the vampire said, “but you have to have a Christmas tree. Oh, yeah – you also have to draw a name for Secret Santas.”

I groaned. “Are we doing that again?”

“Let me go get the cup,” he said, trotting to the other side of the kitchen.

I looked at the other two. “A vampire obsessed with Christmas. That has to be the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“No weirder than an angel burning down a Christmas tree,” pointed out Cody.

Peter returned with a reindeer mug that held a few folded pieces of paper. He held it out to me. “Not many left. Pick.”

I pulled out a slip and opened it. Carter.

“Son of a bitch,” I swore. “I hate Christmas.”

“You do not,” said Peter. “You just have to get a tree. Then you’ll feel better.”

My eyes drifted from the star, down to Tawny and Niphon. “What I have to do is get out of here,” I told them, setting my glass on the counter.

I made my good-byes to them and endured a bit more teasing about my new mentoring job. As I walked to the door, I overheard Jerome saying to Grace, “…but I’ll be out of town for a few days.”

I suddenly realized I needed to ask him something. “Hey, Jerome.”

He turned from the demoness, shooting me an impatient look. In as few words as possible, I recapped how I’d woken up without the energy I’d stolen the previous night. Jerome listened, looking bored.

“What’d you do last night? Bursts of shape-shifting? Rocket science? Heavy lifting?”

I didn’t need him to tell me what sorts of things would burn through my energy. “I didn’t do any of those things. I just slept. I did dream, though.”

“Dreams only suck the life out of humans, not us,” he remarked dryly. “It’s what keeps Hell in business.” Seeing my expression, he sighed. “It’s probably nothing, Georgie. Mental exhaustion’ll do it. You probably spent the whole night unconsciously wrestling with sexual temptation.”

I didn’t appreciate his flippant answer, but there was nothing I could do about it. I left the party, driving home at a reasonable speed limit this time. As soon as I cleared the door, I tossed that ridiculous manual to the floor. It landed with a ground-shaking thump that made my cat Aubrey puff up her tail.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, scratching her black-speckled head in consolation.

Traipsing to the bedroom, I promptly dialed Seth on my cell phone.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey. You have to come over here tonight.”

A pause. “Well, I could, but…”

“Oh, come on! You won’t believe what I just went through. We’re getting another succubus.”

He paused again. “I’m not really sure how to respond to that.”

“Respond by getting your ass over here. I need you.”

“Thetis…I’m so close to the end here. Four chapters away. And I got this idea while we were having breakfast…”

I groaned. Cady and O’Neill had defeated me again. Before actually meeting Seth, I’d worshipped him from afar as a literary genius, reading his novels over and over. Now I knew the dark truth about being a bestselling author’s girlfriend.

Hearing my silence, he reluctantly added: “But, I mean, if you really need me…”

“No, no. Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.”

“You don’t sound like it’s okay. I know how women work. You say that, then you’ll hold a grudge against me forever. Literally.”

“No, really. It’s fine. I’ll be seeing you tomorrow anyway. Besides, as soon as I get out of this dress, I’m just going to pass out anyway.” No way was I starting that procedural tome.

“You’re wearing a dress?”

“Yup.”

“You weren’t wearing one earlier. What’s it look like?”

I started laughing. “Ooh…are you trying to have phone sex with me?”

“Phone sex? Hardly. We haven’t even had a phone first date.”

“It’s not that hard. You see, I tell you how the dress has a really low neckline with nothing underneath. Then, you tell me how you’ll reach out and peel it off and stroke my – “

“Oh my God. No. We are not doing this.”

Typical Seth. He could write sex scenes that set the page on fire or dialogue clever enough to impress even me. Make him vocalize any of it, and he choked up. He was shy around others, fearful in large groups, and much happier staying an unnoticed listener. I sympathized but sometimes had trouble really comprehending it, considering how often I became the center of attention. I liked to think he’d improved a bit since we got together, but he had a long way to go.

“It just takes practice. Here, I’ll help you. Picture it. I’m getting on my knees and slowly unfastening your pants – “

“Okay, look. If you really want to go through with this, I’d be happy to, you know, go get on my computer and IM it…”

“Oh good grief. Go work on your book.”

I hung up the phone and sat down on my bed. Good Lord. My weekend had taken an abrupt U-turn. Like it or not, I supposed it had been only a matter of time before a new succubus joined the ranks here. Seattle had grown significantly over the years, and I could only do so much. But a green succubus? One I had to train up? If I hadn’t known such administrative decisions were out of the demon’s hands, I would have accused Jerome of doing it on purpose. It was on par with his sense of humor. Why couldn’t we have just gotten some antisocial pro who did her job without ever interacting with me?

And Niphon…well, that was the coup de gras. I didn’t like being reminded of my past, and I didn’t like him. Something told me he had it in for me, though I couldn’t entirely fathom why. He’d bought my soul and recruited my eternal services. What more was there? Wait and see, a warning voice whispered in my head. I shivered. Tawny couldn’t make her first score a moment too soon.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel like passing out after all. I wanted to go out. Not for a victim or anything…just to, well, be out. Grab a drink. Do a little flirting. It might salvage the train wreck I’d just endured.

I headed downtown to the Cellar, a favorite watering hole for local immortals. After Tawny’s coming-out party tonight, I doubted anyone I knew would be there. A little alone time suited me just fine. Yet, as I entered the crowded bar and slipped through the drinking, laughing patrons, I felt a cool sensation tickle my immortal senses. It made me think of crystal and ozone.

Scanning around, I finally found Carter sitting across the room at a round table. Seattle’s most powerful angel – and the one who had burned down my Christmas tree – had sensed me too, and a slight smile curled his lips in greeting. Although he naturally hadn’t been at Hell’s all staff meeting, he did have a tendency to hang out with my little clique. It had weirded me out at first, but I’d since come to view him as a normal fixture in my life, albeit a strange and badly dressed one.

More startling than seeing him out tonight, however, was his assortment of companions. Three angels and a human – none of whom I’d ever met before. All of them watched me, displaying curiosity and – for one of them – scorn at my presence. Whatever. He could scorn all he wanted. It would take more than an angel posse to get to me after everything I’d experienced today. Carter’s company did strike me as odd; I’d never known him to work with others. A grudging curiosity rose up within me, wondering what could have brought them all together – with a human, no less.

Noting my scrutiny, Carter winked and made a small gesture of invitation, much to the astonishment of two of the angels. I nodded back in acknowledgement, first stopping by the bar to get a vodka gimlet.

When I walked over a minute later, I put on my best saucy succubus attitude and pulled up a chair beside Carter.

“Well, well,” I said. “I feel like it’s Rush weekend or something. We’re all entertaining guests, huh?”

“So I hear,” he said. He absentmindedly ran a hand through his chin-length blond hair. Unless I was mistaken, it had been washed for the first time in six months. These guests must be serious. “I also hear one of yours is of a more permanent nature.”

I pulled a face. “I don’t really want to talk about that, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Can we expect a cat fight soon?”

“That joke is so one hour ago. You want to introduce me to the rest of the class?”

This made one of the angels laugh. She had deeply tanned skin and black hair that shone like silk. A merry glitter danced in her eyes as she extended a hand to me.

“Yasmine. And you’re Georgina.”

I nodded back, unable to help a smile. The one she gave me in return filled me with warmth and joy. Maybe some angels weren’t so bad after all. It was a good thing, too, because her companions seemed less thrilled to make my acquaintance.

“I’m Whitney,” said another slowly, a pretty black woman whose hair consisted of myriad tiny braids. She dressed with a fashion sense that met my standards and wore cat-eye glasses that made her look both cute and wise. Her handshake took a moment in coming, but it did come.

I glanced at the last angel expectantly. He had dark brown hair and blue eyes, paired with a long and narrow face. His expression conveyed clear disapproval and a haughty coldness. Now that was behavior I associated with angels. For a moment, I didn’t think he’d speak at all. Then, with great stiffness, he said, “I’m Joel.” No handshake followed.

I turned to the human. He grinned back with as much enthusiasm as Yasmine and flipped his longish dark hair out of his eyes. “Vincent Damiani. Nice to meet you.”

“You too.” I cut Carter a sly look. “And all this time, I didn’t think you had any friends.”

“You’re jumping to conclusions, Daughter of Lilith.” He sipped from what looked like whiskey straight up. “They’re here on business.”

“Ooh. Top secret angel business, huh? What’re you going to do? Dance on a pinhead? Lobby for National Cute Puppy Day?”

Joel’s cold look dropped another ten degrees. “As if we would discuss our affairs with a dark seductress of evil.”

Yasmine elbowed him with an eye roll. “She’s joking.”

“That’s what she wants you to think,” he warned ominously. “I for one am not going to let my guard down while she attempts to use her wily and sinister powers of seduction on us.”

Fixing him with a slow, languid smile, I leaned back in the chair, crossing my legs so the skirt rode up my thighs. “Baby, if I were using my wily and sinister powers of seduction, you’d be the first to know.”

A dark flush stained his cheeks. He fixed his gaze on Carter. “I don’t know what game you think you’re playing, but you need to get rid of her.”

Carter stayed unfazed. “She’s harmless – unless you’re a drug-pushing god or a nephilim. Or an introverted writer.”

Yasmine flinched, her cheerful countenance becoming sober. “Don’t joke about nephilim.”

“In fact,” Carter obliviously continued, “she might fix that little logistical problem. Georgina, I don’t suppose you’d mind playing hostess, would you? Vincent needs a place to stay while he’s in town.”

I arched an eyebrow in surprise. Misinterpreting my silence, Vincent hastily added, “It’s okay if you don’t want to. I mean, you don’t even know me. I can see how that’d be weird.”

“I don’t know,” I told him, even more curious as to what was transpiring with this odd group. “If angels vouch for you…well, you can’t really get a better recommendation than that. If you don’t mind sleeping on the couch, it’s fine by me.”

“You’re a pearl among succubi,” Carter declared.

Joel nearly choked on his drink. Considering his stick-up-the-ass attitude, I doubted he had anything alcoholic. Probably Kool-Aid or Pepsi. Diet Pepsi, at that.

“Are you out of your mind?” he exclaimed. “She’s a succubus. You can’t subject him to that. Think about his soul.”

“She’s not really into nice guys,” Carter said. “Usually. You won’t have a problem.”

Yasmine offered Vincent a playful look. “He’s not that nice anyway.”

“Carter – ” began Joel.

“I told you, she’s fine. Let it go. You have my word. Besides, she won’t ask any questions, and it’ll give him an accessible place to stay while you guys search.”

I jumped on the word “search.” Now we were getting somewhere. “What are you guys looking for?”

Dead silence met me. Whitney crossed her arms. Vincent sipped his drink.

“Okay, I get it.” I finished the gimlet with a gulp. “Need to know basis. Mum’s the word. Hush-hush and all that.”

Yasmine’s easy grin returned. “I love her, Carter. No wonder you keep her around.”

She then started talking about another succubus she’d met in Boston, smoothly changing subjects as deftly as Carter could. Guessing what I was thinking, Carter caught my eye and grinned. I rolled my own eyes in exasperation.

Nonetheless, as the evening progressed, I found myself liking Yasmine immensely. She, Vincent, and Carter carried most of the conversation, and while angels weren’t nearly as fun as the rest of my friends, I found this group entertaining in their own way. They also swore and drank a lot less, but well, nobody’s perfect.

When the bar closed, I took Vincent with me, but not before Joel issued warnings about the sanctity of the human soul. Vincent listened to it with a patient face, nodding along at the key parts.

“Is he always like that?” I asked on the drive home.

Vincent laughed. “He can’t help it. He means well. He’s just worried about me.”

“Are you worried?”

“Nah. You’re pretty cute, but no, I’m not worried. I’m already in love with someone.”

I started to joke that that was no protection against anything, that I’d seduced plenty of guys who thought they were in love. Something in his voice stopped my quip. The way he spoke implied that being in love was indeed protection from me and all the other evils of the world. He spoke like one who was invincible. I suddenly felt sad.

“Good for you,” I said softly.

He cut me a sidelong look. “You’re okay for a succubus.”

“Okay enough to tell me what you and the Super Friends are doing in town?”

A smile flashed back over his face. “No.”

At home, I set him up on the couch, producing piles of blankets to keep him warm. I kept my apartment at a steamy temperature most of the time, but it was December, and the part of me that still remembered huddling around meager fires in days gone by felt one could never have enough blankets.

I soon went to bed, buried under my own stash of covers. This time, I didn’t dream.

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