"No one is punished forever," he told me gently.

"Yeah? That's not what I hear. Good night."


I went into my bedroom, closing my door behind me. Just before it clicked, I heard Carter call, "So, who's making breakfast?"

CHAPTER 18

Around ten the next morning, the phone jolted me out of a dream I'd been having about jellyfish and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Rolling over, I picked it up, discovering in the process that I ached a lot less than I had last night. Immortal healing in action.

"Hello?"

"Hey, it's Seth."

Seth! Yesterday's events rushed back to me. The birthday party. The ice cream. The perfume. I again wondered who he'd had to meet after dropping me off at the bookstore.

"Hi," I gushed, sitting up. "How are you?"

"Not bad. I'm, uh, over at Emerald City, and I didn't see you... they said it's your day off."

"Yeah, I'll be back tomorrow."

"Okay. So, um, do you want to maybe do something today? Lunch? Or a movie maybe? Unless you have other plans..."

"No... not exactly..." I bit my lip, silencing the immediate acceptance that wanted to spring forth.

I still had that strange, inexplicable attraction and sense of comfortable familiarity with Seth. I would have liked to hang out with him more, but I had already tried walking the line of friendship and dating with Roman, only to have that blow up in my face. It would be far better never to get started with Seth, despite my longings. Besides, I hadn't forgotten about my angelic bodyguard; I didn't really want him tagging along. Best to keep Carter indoors as long as possible.

"But I'm sick."

"Really? I'm sorry."

"Yeah, you know... just that kind of run-down feeling." It wasn't entirely a lie. "I don't really feel up to getting out today."

"Oh. Okay. Do you need anything? Do you want me to bring you any food maybe?"

"No... no," I hastily assured him, banishing images of Seth feeding me chicken soup while I lounged around in cute pajamas. Christ. This was going to be harder than I thought. "I don't want you to have to keep taking care of me. Thanks, though."

"I don't mind. I mean, no problem."

"I should be in tomorrow, if this doesn't get worse... so I'll see you then. Maybe we can have coffee. Or rather, I'll have coffee and you can... not have coffee."

"Okay. I'd like that. Not having coffee, I mean. Would you mind... that is, can I check on you later? Call you again?"

"Sure." The phone was safe enough.

"Okay. If you need anything before then..."

"I know how to reach you."

We said our goodbyes and disconnected, and I clambered out of bed to see what mischief Carter had managed this morning. I found the angel sitting on a stool by my kitchen counter, feeding Aubrey sausage with one hand while he held some sort of breakfast sandwich in the other. An enormous McDonald's bag sat on the counter near him.

"I made breakfast," he told me, eyes on Aubrey.

"Don't give her that," I chastised. "It's bad for her."

"Cats don't eat kernels of dry food in the wilderness."

"Aubrey couldn't survive in the wilderness."

I scratched her head, but she was more interested in licking the grease off her chops. Opening the bag, I found a variety of sandwiches and hash brown patties.

"I didn't know what you'd want," Carter explained as I pulled out a Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit.

I bit into it, melting at that scrumptiousness, grateful weight gain and cholesterol were nonevents for me. "Hey, wait. Did you actually go to McDonald's?"

"Yup."

I swallowed the food. "You just left? Just now?"

"Yup."

"What kind of bodyguard are you? What if the nephilim came back and attacked me?"

He eyed me and shrugged. "You look okay to me."

"You're not very good at this."

"Who was on the phone?"

"Seth."

"The author?"

"Yeah. Wanted to hang out today. I told him I was sick."

"Poor guy. You're breaking his heart."

"Better that than something else." I finished the sandwich and went for a second one. Aubrey watched me hopefully.

"So what are we doing today?"

"Nothing. At least, I'm not going out, if that's what you mean."

"You aren't going to attract nephilim attention that way." He glanced around my apartment and grimaced when I didn't respond. "It's going to be a long day then. I hope you at least have cable."

We spent the rest of the morning more or less staying out of each other's way. I let him use my laptop, and he got caught up in surfing eBay. What he could be looking for, I had no idea. As for me, I stayed in my pajamas after all, tossing a robe over them and deeming that good enough. I attempted to call Roman once, knowing I'd need to face him eventually, but I only managed to leave a voice mail message.

I hung up with a sigh, opting to curl up on the couch with a book Seth had recommended in one of his e-mails.

Just as I was starting to think I'd recovered from the dense breakfast and needed lunch, Carter suddenly peered over the top of the laptop, like a hound sniffing the wind.

"I have to go," he told me abruptly, standing up.

"What? What do you mean?"

" Nephilim signature."

I bolted upright from my lounging position. "What? Where?"

"Not here."

With that, he blinked out of sight.

I sat there, looking around uneasily. Whereas earlier I'd felt stifled by his presence, his sudden disappearance became a gaping hole in my environment. I was exposed. Vulnerable. When he didn't return in a few minutes, I tried unsuccessfully to pay attention to my book, finally giving up after I'd reread the same sentence five times.

Still wanting lunch, I called and ordered a pizza, making sure I included enough for Carter. Doing this wasn't the best of ideas on my part since it meant opening the door eventually. When I did, I expected no less than an army of nephilim outside. Instead, I only found a bored-looking pizza guy, demanding $15.07.

I munched on the pizza and tried to watch television with little luck. Turning to the laptop, I checked my e-mail and found that Seth had sent me a funny letter, much more eloquent than our earlier conversation, per usual. It only provided temporary distraction, and I was on the verge of breaking out the paint-by-number kit when Carter blinked back into my living room.

"What the hell was that? Where have you been?"

The angel regarded me with a calm, wry smile. "Easy there, haven't you ever heard of respecting boundaries in a relationship? It was in that book you were so quick to discard."

"Cut it out. You can't just say ' nephilim signature' and then disappear like that."

"I can actually. I have to." He found the cold pizza on my counter and bit into a piece. Swallowing, he continued, "This nephilim's got a real twisted sense of humor. Every once in a while, it likes to unmask... flash us, so to speak. This time it came from West Seattle."

"You can detect that from this far away?"

"Jerome and I can. We never catch the creep, but we have to check it out anyway. Leads us on a merry chase."

The implications seemed obvious to me. "So you leave me? What if it's a setup? What if it flashes you over there and then zaps back to me while all the attention's away?"

"It can't just 'zap' around. Nephilim don't move like higher immortals do; they're constrained by the same limitations as you, fortunately. This one would have to get in a car and drive back over here, just like everyone else, which would hardly be a speedy process. You're protected by miles of traffic congestion."

"Weird."

"Like we said, they're unpredictable. They like breaking rules, shaking up the status quo just to see what we'll do."

"Weird," I repeated. "Does it even know you're there? That it's making you drop everything and come?"

"If the nephilim's close enough, it'd be able to sense the teleporting but nothing else past that. As long as we're masked, our identities, strength, and whatever stay hidden. So, if it is lurking, it knows two higher immortals came to check it out, but not much more than that."

"And it just watches and waits," I concluded. "Kind of twisted. Lord, these things are a pain in the ass."

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