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Succubus Dreams CHAPTER 4

The next day, I went to the address on Dante’s business card.It was in Rainier Valley, which wasn’t exactly rundown but wasn’t upwardly mobile either.The directions led to a narrow shop jammed in between a barber and a shady-looking convenience store.

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PSYCHIC hung in red neon letters in the window. The “I” had burned out. Underneath it, a handwritten sign read: PALM READING & TAROT CARDS.

I stepped through the door, making bells ring. The interior proved to be as barren as the exterior. A narrow counter flanked one wall. The rest of the small, stark space was empty, save for a round table covered in red velvet that had cigarette burns on it. A tacky crystal ball sat on top. This place was a wasteland compared to Erik’s warm, inviting shop.

“Just a minute,” a voice called from an open doorway in the back. “I’ve just got to – “

A man entered the room and stopped when he saw me. He was about six-foot, with black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Two days worth of facial hair covered his face, and he wore jeans and a plain black T-shirt. Early forties, maybe, and pretty cute. He looked me over from head to toe and gave me a sly, knowing smile.

“Well, hello. What do we have here?” He tilted his head, still studying me. “Not human, that’s for sure. Demon? No, not strong enough. Vampire? No…not this time of day.”

“I…” I stopped, surprised that he’d sensed something in me. He had no immortal signature; he was definitely human. He must be like Erik, I realized. A mortal who could sense the immortal world, though he didn’t have enough skill to pinpoint what I was exactly. Deciding there was no point in subterfuge, I said, “I’m a succubus.”

He shook his head. “No, you aren’t.”

“Yes, I am.”

“You aren’t.”

I was a bit surprised to be having this conversation. “I am too.”

“No. Succubi are flame-eyed and bat-winged. Everyone knows that. They don’t wear jeans and sweaters. At the very least, you should have a bigger chest. What are you, 34B or something?”

“C,” I said indignantly.

“If you say so.”

“Look, I am a succubus. I can prove it.” I let my form change, shifting through several different female variations before returning to my usual one. “See?”

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

I had a feeling he was playing with me. “Are you Dante?”

“For now.” He approached and shook my hand, holding on to it. He flipped it over. “You here for a palm reading? I’ll show you how to shape-shift your hand to get a good future.”

I took my hand back. “No, thanks. I’m here because I have some questions…questions that Erik Lancaster thought you might be able to answer.”

Dante’s smile dropped. He rolled his eyes and walked over to the counter. “Oh. Him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Erik’s my friend.”

Dante leaned his back against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “Of course he’s your friend. He’s everyone’s friend. Fucking boy scout. If he could have shaken his holier-than-thou attitude and worked with me, we could have made a fortune by now.”

I remembered what Erik had said about Dante being a con artist and a Hell-bound person. I didn’t pick up any evil vibes off him, but there was a definite abrasiveness to his attitude that made Erik’s assessment more plausible.

“Erik has standards,” I declared.

Dante laughed. “Oh, great. A holier-than-thou succubus. This is going to be fun.”

“Look, can you just answer my questions? It won’t take long.”

“Sure,” he said. “I’ve got time – at least until the next rush of customers.” The bitter tone in his voice as he gestured to the empty room indicated that there hadn’t been a rush in a very long time.

“I had a dream the other night,” I explained. “And when I woke up, all my energy was gone.”

“You’re a succubus. Supposedly. That kind of thing happens.”

“I wish everyone would stop saying that! This wasn’t normal. And I’d been with a man the night before. I was charged up, so to speak.”

“You do anything afterward that would have depleted the energy?”

Everyone kept asking that too. “No. I just went to bed. But the dream…it was really strange. I don’t know how to explain it. Really, really vivid. I’ve never felt anything like it.”

“What was it about?”

“A, um, dishwasher.”

Dante sighed. “Did someone pay you to come here and mess with me?”

Through gritted teeth, I related the dream.

“That’s it?” he asked when I finished.

“Yup.”

“Lame dream.”

“Do you know what it means?”

“Probably that you need to fix your dishwasher.”

“It isn’t broken!”

He straightened up. “Sorry. Can’t help you then.”

“Erik said this was your specialty.”

“It is, I suppose. But, sometimes a dream is just a dream. You sure you don’t want me to read your palm? It’s all bullshit, but I can at least make something up so you feel like the trip wasn’t wasted.”

“No, I want to know about my fucking dream. How can it be just a dream if I woke up with no energy?”

Dante walked back over to me and flicked a piece of escaped hair out of his face. “I don’t know. You aren’t giving me enough to go on. How many times has it happened?”

“Just the one time.”

“Then it may be just a fluke, kiddo.”

I turned toward the door. “Well, thanks for the ‘help.'”

Hurrying over to my side, Dante caught my arm. “Hey, wait. You want to go get a drink now?”

“I – what?”

“I’ll risk upsetting the masses and close up shop for the day. There’s a great bar around the corner. Draft Budweiser – only a dollar a glass during happy hour. My treat.”

I scoffed. I didn’t know what was more absurd. That Dante thought I’d go out with him or that he thought I’d drink Budweiser. His attractiveness wasn’t enough to make up for his weird personality.

“Sorry. I have a boyfriend.”

“I’m not looking to be your boyfriend. Cheap sex is fine with me.”

I met his eyes. They were gray, similar to Carter’s but without the silvery hue. I expected a joke here, but despite the perpetual smirk, Dante appeared to be perfectly serious.

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“Why on earth do you think I’d have cheap sex with you? Do I look that easy?”

“You say you’re a succubus. You’re easy by definition. And even without the bat-wings and flame-eyes, you’re pretty cute.”

“Aren’t you worried about your soul?” Even if he was as corrupt as Erik had insinuated – and I still wasn’t really seeing that – Dante would take some kind of hit from sleeping with me. All mortals did. Of course, I’d met plenty of men – good and evil alike – who’d been willing to risk their souls for sex.

“Nope. My soul’s pretty far gone. This would just be for fun. Look, if you want to skip the beer, we can just get right to it. I’ve always wanted to do it on the table over there.”

“Un-fucking-believable.” I pushed open the door.

“Oh, come on,” he pleaded. “I’m pretty good. And hey, maybe your boyfriend’s poor sexual performance is what’s stressing you out and taking away your energy.”

“Not likely,” I told him. “We don’t have sex.”

There was a moment’s silence, then Dante threw back his head and laughed. “Did it occur to you that maybe that’s stressing you out? Clearly the dishwasher is a metaphor for your broken sex life, which then forces you to wash dishes ‘by hand.'”

I left, heading back to the bookstore where I could get a little respect. Some dream expert Dante had turned out to be. I could see now why Erik didn’t really like him. I was also starting to wonder if maybe everyone was right. Maybe I had mentally burned myself out. Maybe the dream was really just a dream.

I was almost at the bookstore when I got a phone call.

“Miss Kincaid?” asked a pleasant female voice. “This is Karen from the Seattle Children’s Alliance, calling to confirm your participation in our auction this week.”

“Your what?”

There was a pause. “Our charity date auction, to raise money for the Alliance.”

I was still baffled. “Um, sounds like a great cause, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I heard papers being ruffled. “We have you listed as a volunteer.”

“For what, to be auctioned off for a date?”

“Yes. It looks like…here we are. Your name was submitted by Dr. Mitchell.”

I sighed. “Let me call you back.” I hung up and dialed Hugh. “Hey, Dr. Mitchell. You volunteered me to be auctioned off?”

“It’s not that different from what you usually do,” he argued. “And it’s for charity.”

“I buy the peace-on-Earth-and-good-will-toward-men thing from Peter and Cody – but not from you. You don’t care about those kids.”

“I care about the group’s director,” Hugh said. “She’s a fucking fox. I get some high quality candidates to raise money, and I can probably get her in bed.”

“You’re using a children’s charity to further your sex life. That’s horrible. And why didn’t you ask Tawny? If anyone needs a date, she does.”

“Her? Jesus Christ. It’d be a disaster. We’re trying to make money here. Do you hate kids or something?”

“No, but I don’t have time to do it. I’ll write them a check.”

I hung up on his protests, just as I turned onto Queen Anne Avenue. I was a little early for my shift and decided to stop home and grab an apple and a granola bar. Last time I’d worked, we’d been so busy that I’d skipped my lunch break. I figured that this time, I should come prepared. My immortality wouldn’t let me starve to death, but I could still get lightheaded and weak.

Halfway down the hall to my apartment, I felt a shock wave of crystalline goodness. Angelic auras. I opened my door and found the whole gang: Carter, Yasmine, Whitney, Joel, and Vincent. None of them spoke; they were all just watching me expectantly. The angels would have sensed me long before I sensed them. They all sat in my living room, casually occupying my sofa and chairs as though they weren’t a host of heavenly warriors. Well, not all of them were casual. Joel sat as stiff and formal as he had the first time I met him.

“Oh, man,” I said, shutting the door behind me. “It’s just like that They Might Be Giants song.”

Vincent grinned. “‘She’s an Angel’?”

I nodded. “Somewhere they’re meeting on a pinhead – “

” – calling you an angel, calling you the nicest things,” he finished.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Joel, interrupting our jam session.

“Or not so nice,” I muttered. I turned from Vincent and glared at Joel. “I live here, remember?”

“We’re having a meeting,” he said.

“Hey, when you asked if Vince could stay here, you never said anything about making this your top secret tree house headquarters. I don’t care if you guys hold your choir practice here or whatever, but don’t try to throw me out while you do.”

“Sorry,” said Yasmine. I did a double-take. Apologies from angels were about as rare as from demons. From the look on his face, Joel was about as surprised as me. “We probably should have asked first. We can go somewhere else.” She leaned over my coffee table and started gathering up newspapers. Interesting. Apparently Vincent’s fixation with the news was more than just a personal hobby. I glanced back up at Yasmine and tried to act like I hadn’t noticed anything.

“No, it’s fine. I’m actually heading right back out. I just came by for some food.”

She pushed strands of long, black hair out of her face. They’d slipped out of her ponytail. “You want Vince to make you something?”

He turned to her, startled, wearing an astonished, yet still-amused look. “What am I, your personal assistant?”

“Not with the kind of respect you show us,” she grumbled.

I hid a smile. “Thanks, but I’m fine. I don’t have the time.”

“Good,” said Joel. “Then hurry up.”

Whitney sighed and looked a little embarrassed – but not enough to contradict him. Yasmine had no such qualms and elbowed him in the ribs. “What was that for?” he exclaimed.

“You have no manners,” she scolded.

Grinning broadly, I went to the kitchen and found an apple. When I opened the cupboard to look for my granola bars, I found the box empty. “Hey,” I said, carrying it out to the living room. “Did somebody eat these? I had two left this morning.”

Carter spoke up for the first time. “I was hungry.”

I stared at him, incredulous. “You ate both of them?”

“I was hungry,” he repeated, not looking contrite in the least.

“Does it ever stop with you?” I exclaimed. “First the Christmas tree, now this? You didn’t even throw the box away!”

“I was hoping you’d forgotten about the Christmas tree. That was an accident, and you know it.”

I sighed loudly and put the apple in my purse.

“I’m going to the grocery store later,” said Vincent helpfully. Aubrey jumped up and settled herself between him and Yasmine. Both their hands instantly moved to pet her. Aubrey gave me a smug cat look at the attention. “I’ll pick you up some more if you want.”

“Pick him up some more so that he doesn’t go rob the food bank next. See you guys later. No wild parties while I’m gone.” Carter, Yasmine, and Vincent laughed; Whitney and Joel didn’t.

When I’d shut the door behind me, I paused in the hall, wishing there was some way to spy on angels. There wasn’t, unfortunately. I couldn’t even hide from them. They could mask their signatures from me, but not vice versa. In fact, they all knew I hadn’t left yet. Annoyed, I headed downstairs, curiosity burning in me. Why were they all here? Why did they need a human? And what role did the newspapers play?

Figuring out what angels did with their time was always difficult. With my side, it was pretty straightforward. We were always looking to commit souls to Hell and did so in a well-monitored, micro-managed manner. Heaven’s forces moved in mysterious ways, though. Carter’s purpose in Seattle was a continual puzzle for my friends and me since none of us ever saw any evidence of him doing anything particularly noble, aside from sharing his cigarettes. He did always show a lot of interest in my love life and was quick to dispense cryptic pieces of advice, but I suspected that was more curiosity than altruism.

Work was only a few blocks away. Since it wasn’t raining, I simply walked down there. As soon as I entered Emerald City, Maddie approached me, an uncomfortable expression on her face.

“Hey,” she said uneasily. “I, um, need your advice. I’m going to a wedding tomorrow and don’t know what to wear. This is so stupid…but could you take a look at my options?”

Peering around, I decided the store could function without us for ten minutes, particularly since it had taken Maddie a fair amount of courage to broach this subject. I’d never actually seen her dress up before. “Okay. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

We went back to my office, and she tried on three different dresses. No doubt Seth would have been amused to know she was changing clothes while I was in there.

When she’d finished, I gave my honest opinion. “They don’t do you justice.”

“Which is a nice way of saying they look awful on me.” Maddie balled one of the dresses up and tossed it to the floor. “I hate this sort of thing. How can I write about women’s issues and not be any good at them?”

“Well…you write about different kinds of issues. The problem here is that you’re wearing clothes that are too big for you.”

Her dark eyes widened in surprise. “I’m big. They’re loose. They hide it.”

Maddie wasn’t big, not really. She was a size ten or twelve, if I had to guess, and her short height emphasized that a little. But her curves were all proportioned correctly, and she had a very pretty face. Of course, compared to the anorexic models so popular among humans today, I could understand her attitude.

“You are not big. But those dresses make you look it. Something smaller’s going to make you look better.”

“I can’t wear tight clothes.”

“They don’t have to be tight. They just have to fit.”

Maddie sighed and ran her hands down the sides of her thighs. “You don’t know what it’s like,” she said, the slightest accusatory note in her voice. “You’re beautiful and tiny. Not all of us have the luxury of looking perfect all the time.”

“No one looks perfect all the time,” I argued. “I certainly don’t.” Okay, I kind of did. “You’ve just got to find the right things. And really, half of beauty is attitude. You feel sexy, then you are sexy.”

Maddie looked dubious. “I don’t think it’s that easy. Guys aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to ask me out. You know how long it’s been since I was on a date?”

“That goes back to attitude,” I said. “Look, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but you don’t always give off friendly vibes. I mean, you do to me. And to Doug. Sort of. But really, that’s it.”

“I know I’m not the best with people,” she admitted, crossing her arms over her chest. “But I just can’t do meaningless small talk.”

“Yeah, but you still have to do some talking. It’s a fact of life.”

“Well, if guys came and actually talked to me, maybe I could try. But they aren’t really lining up.” She gestured at her body. “Because of this. And now we’ve come full circle.”

“What if I could guarantee you a date?” I asked, suddenly inspired.

Her lips quirked into a smile. It instantly transformed her face. “Are you asking me out?”

“No, but someone else will, I’m certain of it. You just have to let me pick out your outfit.”

“I’m not wearing anything slutty.”

“It won’t be,” I promised. I stood up from my chair. “Look, I’ve gotta run. Wear the yellow dress to the wedding. With a belt. I’ll give you details later about the date plan.” She left, looking skeptical, and I threw myself into work.

The rest of the day flew by. I never saw Seth in the caf?¦ and presumed he was working at home today. We had a date later on, so I knew I’d see him then. Since becoming manager, I spent a lot of time holed up in my office, which was hard on the social part of me. But, every once in a while, I got to escape to cover someone’s break or arrange a display.

While near the self-help section, a guy carrying some books stumbled near me and dropped the stack. Hoping he hadn’t tripped on a bump in the carpet and was planning a lawsuit, I hastily knelt down to help him.

“No, no,” he said, cheeks burning. He was the age I looked, late twenties. Early thirties at most. “You don’t have to…”

I was already stacking them, though, and quickly understood his discomfort. They were books on all sorts of fetishes – in particular, exhibitionism and voyeurism.

“Oh God,” he said, as I handed him the books. “I’m so embarrassed. I feel like such a pervert.”

“It’s okay,” I told him. “It’s your business, and we’ve all got our…ah, preferences.”

He looked mildly reassured but still clearly wanted to bolt. There was a wedding ring on his hand, and I expected I was dealing with a fetish he probably didn’t share with his wife. Honestly, I was surprised he’d resorted to actual books when he could find a hundred times more sources on the Internet. Most likely he and his wife shared a home computer, and he feared discovery.

It was Georgina the succubus, not Georgina the bookstore manager, who asked the next question. Georgina the bookstore manager would have gotten fired for it if caught.

“You like the watching or the doing?” I kept my voice low.

He swallowed, studied me for mockery, and must have decided I was serious. “The, um, doing.”

For half a breath, I considered going for it with him. I needed the energy, badly. He’d be an easy mark, consumed with a secret obsession he couldn’t fulfill anywhere else. But, it’d mean doing it in this body, and I didn’t like that. This was my preferred, everyday shape. I didn’t want to sully it with business.

So, I smiled and sent him on his way, silently wishing him well in fulfilling his sexual desires.

I called Seth later while I was walking home from work to confirm our date. We were going to meet over at the Pacific Northwest Ballet to see The Nutcracker. While he appreciated the performing arts, getting him to go out while his book’s ending loomed had been a Herculean task, and I still couldn’t believe he’d agreed. He’d only conceded after I’d promised he could show up at the last possible minute.

Only, we apparently had different definitions of “last possible minute” because when the lights went down, he still hadn’t surfaced. The ballet started, and I craned my neck each time I heard one of the doors open. The chair beside me stayed empty, unfortunately. It was a sign of my agitation that I missed a lot of the performance and couldn’t appreciate Clara’s dream – a dream as vivid for her as mine had been for me. I loved the ballet. I’d danced in a few shows over my lifetime and never got tired of watching graceful muscles and elaborate costumes.

At intermission, I turned on my cell phone and saw that Seth had tried to call. I dialed him back without even listening to the voice message. When he answered, I said, “Please tell me a crazy fan kidnapped you and broke your legs with a sledgehammer.”

“Um, no. Didn’t you get my message?”

“Well, no, seeing as my phone said it came in a half-hour ago. I didn’t have it on because I was busy watching this thing. You know, The Nutcracker?”

He sighed. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t leave. I was too wrapped up. I thought if I, uh, gave you enough notice…”

“Notice? This was more like a belated birthday card. Six months after the fact.”

Silence fell, and I felt some satisfaction in knowing he was quietly acknowledging his wrongdoing.

“I’m sorry, Thetis. It was…I shouldn’t have done it, busy or not. I’m really sorry. You know how I get.”

Now I sighed. He was so damned sincere and adorable that I had a hard time holding a grudge. This wasn’t, however, the first time he’d stood me up or otherwise neglected our social life. Sometimes I wondered if I allowed him too much indulgence. I spent so much time worrying about my transgressions taking advantage of him; maybe I was the one being walked over without even realizing it.

“You want to meet up after the show?” I asked, trying not to sound mad. “Cody invited me out to the bar with them. We could hang out there for a while.”

“Um…well, no.”

“No?” The annoyance I’d tried to quell shot its head back up again. “I just forgave you for standing me up and wasting the money I paid on your ticket, and now you’re turning down my conciliatory offer?”

“Look…I really am sorry, but watching you and your friends get drunk isn’t exactly appealing.”

I sat for a moment, too stunned to respond. He’d spoken in his typically mild way, but I’d heard the slightest bit of derision underscoring his words. Seth didn’t drink. He always tolerated my excesses good-naturedly, but I suddenly wondered if they irritated him after all. His meaning came through as haughtiness to me.

“Sorry we’re not up to your standards. God knows we can’t expect you to do anything outside of your comfort zone.”

“Please, stop. I don’t want to fight with you,” he said with exasperation. “I’m really, really, really sorry about all this. I didn’t mean to stand you up. You know that.”

The lights flashed, signaling the end of intermission. “I’ve got to go.”

“Will you…will you please come over tonight? Go out with your friends, let me finish, and then I’ll make things up to you. I promise. I…I have an early Christmas present for you.”

The hesitancy in his voice softened my heart. A little. “Yeah. Okay. It might be really late when I get there.”

“I’ll wait up.”

We said our good-byes and disconnected. I watched the rest of the show in a grumpy mood and decided drinking and bitching with the gang couldn’t come a moment too soon.

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