Succubus Dreams CHAPTER 9
“I don’t understand this,” said Seth good-naturedly.“I catch you stripping in front of other men, yet I’m the one who gets punished.”
Clasping his hand, I led him onto the ice skating rink.Just like with dancing, I glided with practiced ease.
Seth’s movements were jerky and uncertain. Without my hand, I suspected he would have fallen already.
“This is good for you, Mortensen. You sit at a desk – or table or whatever – all day. This’ll get your muscles working again. Get the old blood pumping.”
His teasing smile turned into a grimace, his hold on my hand turning into a death grip. “There are a hundred other ways I could do that.”
“But none as fun,” I assured him.
Seth was brilliant and funny, but coordinated he was not. During the early days of our acquaintance, I’d tried to teach him to dance. It had been grueling. After a very long time, he’d learned the basic steps, but the process had never been easy – or, I suspected, enjoyable – for him. I’d let him off easy since then, only making him go out dancing once. He’d grown complacent now, which was why I felt this experience would be so good for him.
“Men were not meant to wear blades on their feet,” he told me as we trudged further toward the rink’s center. We were outdoors, at a small park, and our breathing made frosty clouds in the air.
“Women weren’t meant wear to stilettos,” I told him. “But you don’t hear me bitching about it.”
“That’s different. They do great things for your legs. This? This just makes me look stupid.”
“Well, then,” I said. “You better learn. Time to take off the training wheels.” I released his hand.
“Hey! What the – “
But I was gone, slipping away from his grasp with a laugh. He stood there frozen while I skated away, circling the rink in graceful loops and figure eights. After a few rounds, I skated back up to him, finishing with a neat pirouette. He hadn’t moved from the spot where I’d left him, but he no longer appeared annoyed.
“Look at you,” he said, touching my face. “Rosy cheeks. Snowflakes in your hair. You’re the Snow Queen.”
“God, I hope not. That’s a depressing story. Hans Christian Andersen had issues.”
“All writers have issues,” he assured me.
I laughed and took his arm, leading him around in more awkward skating. My legs and feet protested the slow movement, but the rest of me was happy to have quality time with Seth.
“Speaking of writers with issues,” I said. “How can I get in trouble for stripping in front of other men when you have a date with another woman?”
If not for the fact he would have fallen over, I suspect Seth would have elbowed me. “That’s your own fault,” he said. “You made me do it, so don’t get all jealous now.”
“I’m not jealous – but I think Maddie does have a crush on you.”
“Unlikely. It’s probably just author worship.” He gave me a pointed look. “Like some people I know. If anything, she’s got a crush on you.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, stop with the lesbian fantasy thing.”
“Nah, nothing like that. She just idolizes you, that’s all. You’re chipping away at that insecure exterior of hers, and I think she’s starting to really see how much she’s capable of. You’re sort of setting the example.”
I hadn’t considered that. “Really?”
“Yup. Keep training her up, and we’ll have a mini-Georgina on our hands.” Seth chuckled as we made a painstakingly slow turn. “Between her, that new succubus, and my nieces, you should start a Ladies Finishing School. How can you be such a good influence and have such a…”
“Demeaning job?” I supplied.
“Something like that. Of course, I suppose it could be worse.”
I gave him a sidelong glance. “Could it?”
“Yeah, you could, like, sell Amway or be trying to get me to move large amounts of money out of Nigeria.”
“Definite deal breakers in any relationship,” I said solemnly.
He looked over at me, rather brave considering the intense attention he’d been giving his feet. Under the rink’s soft lights, his expression was tender. His lips curled into a small, fond smile, and his eyes shone with an affection that almost made me go weak in the knees. Maybe it was a trick to get me to fumble my skating. It nearly worked.
“For you?” he said, coming to a stop. “It might be worth it.”
“Worth cleaning out your bank account?”
“Worth being part of a pyramid scheme?”
“They say they don’t do that anymore.”
“What if they’re lying?”
“Thetis,” he said with a sigh. “I’m going to say something to you I’ve never said before.”
“What is it?”
And then he leaned down and kissed me, bringing warmth to my cold lips. Nearby, I heard children giggle at us, but I didn’t care. I felt the kiss down to my toes. It was brief, like always, but when Seth pulled away, my whole body was filled with heat. Every nerve in me tingled, alive and wonderful. I barely noticed the chilly temperature or the way our breathing formed frosty clouds in the air. He laced his fingers through mine and lifted my hand to his lips. I had gloves on, but he kissed exactly where I wore his ring.
“Why are you so sweet?” I asked, my voice small. My heart beat rapidly, and every star peeping through the clouds seemed to be shining just for me.
“I don’t think I’m that sweet. I mean, I just told you to be quiet. That’s one step away from asking you to wash my laundry and make me a sandwich.”
“You know what I mean.”
Seth pressed another kiss to my forehead. “I’m sweet because you make it easy to be sweet.”
We linked arms again and continued our circuit. I had a sappy urge to rest my head against his shoulder but figured that might be asking too much of his coordination.
“What do you want for Christmas?” I asked, my thoughts spinning ahead to next week.
“I don’t know. There’s nothing I need.”
“Oh no,” I teased. “You aren’t one of those, are you? One of those people who are impossible to shop – “
One of Seth’s feet slipped out from under him. I managed to stay upright, but he went down, his legs crumpling underneath him.
“Oh my God,” I said, kneeling down. “Are you okay?”
“I think so,” he said. The tight set of his lips informed me things were a bit more painful than he was letting on. Putting my arm around his hip, I helped him up. The leg he’d fallen on started to buckle, but he managed to keep it steady in the end.
“Come on,” I said, steering him toward the gate. “We should go.”
“We just got here.”
“Oh, suddenly you’re a fan, Scott Hamilton?”
“Nope, but you are. It was just a fall.”
Maybe it had been just a fall, but the thought of Seth getting hurt had made my heart seize up. “No, no. Let’s go. I’m hungry.”
The expression on his face informed me that he knew I wasn’t that hungry, but he didn’t fight me anymore. When we’d shed our skates for normal shoes, I was pleased to see he didn’t walk with a limp or anything. That would have really been too much: him getting hurt and having it be my fault.
“I’m not made of glass,” he told me as we drove to dinner. He was remarkably good at guessing my thoughts. “You don’t have to protect me.”
“It’s instinct,” I said, lightly. But in my mind, I recalled the grim conversation he’d had with Erik. They were mortal. They could get hurt. They could die.
It was something I’d witnessed over and over throughout the centuries. Each time I grew close to a new mortal, I’d try to pretend that it wouldn’t happen to him or her. But it always did, and eventually that cold reality would hit me, no matter how hard I tried to push it aside.
In fact, that knowledge consumed me for the rest of my night with Seth. I knew it was stupid to make such a big deal out of one fall, but I’d seen too many small things lead to disaster in my life. Lying in bed beside him later on, I found myself thinking back to a series of events that had also started small and ended in tragedy.
Several centuries ago, I lived in a small town in southern England. I’d called myself Cecily then and worn a body with flaming red hair and big, man-eating eyes the color of sapphires.
Funny thing about the Middle Ages. Modern folk always harbor this image of devout, God-fearing people strictly adhering to the letter of divine law. While they were certainly devout back then, that whole adherence thing left something to be desired – even among the clergy. No, scratch that. Especially among the clergy. Powerful churchmen often lived very well in an age where commoners desperately tried to scratch out a living. Ironically, that desperation contributed to the Church’s wealth since the population hoped their lots would improve in the next world and gave money accordingly. Wealth and power lead to corruption, however, and the bishop of the town I lived in was one of the most corrupt around.
And I was his mistress.
Ostensibly, I worked as a servant in his household, but most of my laboring occurred in bed. He fawned over me and kept me supplied with nice clothes and other trinkets, and everyone knew about our relationship. People accepted that it was technically wrong, but most just lived with it. A lot of other bishops – and popes – had mistresses too, and like I said, not everyone was as devout as modern romantics like to believe.
Simply living in sin with a crooked bishop didn’t satisfy my job requirements. After all, I was a real go-getter in those days, and it hadn’t taken too much to lead him astray. If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have.
So, I slept around on him when I could, getting regular fixes and a great deal of entertainment along the way. One day of said entertainment came from two monks who pulled knives on each other after discovering I’d slept with both of them. I don’t know what good they thought it would do. I hardly ever saw them anyway since their monastery lay so far outside of town. Besides, considering how mediocre both liaisons had been, I didn’t have much interest in revisiting either one.
Nonetheless, they fought ferociously, drawing a lot of blood until a local priest managed to separate them. I watched the conflict with an innocent face, hidden among the enthusiastic crowd. No one suspected my involvement, save the intervening priest.
His name was Andrew, and I adored him. Bishops performed masses and other sacraments, but they also had administrative responsibilities. Consequently, Andrew performed a lot of day-to-day ministering. He frequently visited the house where I lived and would speak to me both as a friend and a pastor while traveling to and from his duties.
“Do you hate me?” I asked him after the fight.
We sat in the garden outside the bishop’s house. A couple other servants tended the grounds nearby but were still too far away to overhear us. Andrew hadn’t specifically cited my involvement in the fight, but he had mentioned the incident when he arrived, lamenting what a shame it was that two brothers had been driven to such extremes.
Closing his eyes, he tipped his head back into the sunshine. A heavy gold cross – a gift from my bishop that Andrew continually wanted to sell – rested on his chest, gleaming in the light. “No, of course not.”
I studied him, admiring his young, handsome face and thinking the real shame was his celibacy. Wind ruffled his silky brown hair, and I imagined running my fingers through it.
“You sound disapproving.”
“I disapprove of sin, not of you.” He straightened back up and opened his eyes. “You I pray for.”
I shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t like being prayed for. “What do you mean?”
He smiled at me, and I nearly sighed at his beauty. I longed to have him as a conquest, but he’d proven resistant so far. Of course, that only added to his appeal. I sometimes felt that if I could ever taste it, the energy from his soul would feed me for a lifetime.
“I pray for your physical and spiritual health. I pray you will sin no more. I pray you will find some man you can marry and have children with.” He hesitated. “Although, I’d prefer it more if you took vows.”
I arched an eyebrow of surprise. “Why?”
“Why not? You read and write. You’re more educated than half the brothers at the monastery. You’d be a great asset to the abbey.”
I tilted my head so that some of my hair spilled over my face, knowing how the light would set it ablaze. I held onto his gaze tenaciously. “Is that the only reason why? Or do you just like the idea of me never being with another man?”
Andrew looked away and took a long time answering. “I’d like you to be my sister in Christ,” he said finally. “We all struggle with temptation, and I would like to see you removed from it.” With that, he stood up and straightened the kinks from his body. I remained sitting. “I should leave. It’s getting late.”
He started to walk away, but I called after him. “What about you? Do you struggle with temptation?”
He stopped walking and glanced at me over his shoulder. A small smile, rueful and sad, played at his lips as he regarded me. “Of course. You are my great temptation, and you know it. I’d like to be free of that as well.”
“Are you sure?” I asked softly. Shaking his head, still smiling, he left the garden.
That had been our last truly happy day together….
Back in the present, in bed, sleepiness started to take over and interrupt my recollections. I put a bookmark in my thoughts, reluctant to leave the memory of when life with Andrew had still been sweet and good. I hadn’t been able to stop that story’s ending, but as I rolled over and studied Seth’s sleeping form, I vowed history wouldn’t repeat itself.