I left Capitol Hill for Seattle's University District and Seth's condo. All the windows were dark when I pulled up, and I couldn't help a smile. It was almost eleven. Seth must have called it an early night, something I'd been urging him to do for a while. Thinking of that, my smile faded as quickly as it had come. A few months ago, Seth's sister-in-law, Andrea, had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The disease had been pretty far advanced when caught, and although she'd almost immediately gone into treatment, the outcome still wasn't promising. Worse, the treatments had taken a huge physical toll on her, one that was testing the family's strength. Seth was frequently helping them out, especially when his brother Terry was working, since it was harder for Andrea to care for their five daughters now. Seth had been sacrificing both sleep and his writing career to look after them.
I knew it was necessary. I loved Seth's family and had helped them out as well. But I still hated seeing Seth run himself down and knew that it hurt him to put his work on hold. He claimed his writing was the least of his problems right now and had time before deadlines were an issue, particularly since his next two books were queued for printing next year. I couldn't argue against that, but the sleep issue? Yeah, I was on him a lot about that and glad to see my words had gotten through tonight.
I used my key to let myself in and slipped through the condo as silently as possible. I practically lived here lately and had no trouble finding my way around furniture in the darkness. When I reached his bedroom, I could just barely make out his form wrapped up in covers, softly outlined in the light of his alarm clock. I quietly took off my coat and then shape-shifted into a cotton babydoll nightgown. It was sexy but not blatantly so. I planned on sleeping with him tonight, for real.
I slid into bed and pressed myself up against his back, lightly tossing an arm over him. He stirred slightly, and I couldn't resist pressing a kiss against his bare shoulder. The scent of cinnamon and musk washed over me as he snuggled closer. Despite sternly chastising myself that he needed to sleep, I lightly ran my fingers along his arm and sneaked in another kiss.
"Mmm," he murmured, rolling over toward me. "That feels nice."
A few things hit me at once. First, Seth didn't wear any sort of cologne or aftershave that smelled like cinnamon. Second, Seth's voice didn't sound like that. Third, and perhaps most important, Seth wasn't in bed with me.
I didn't mean to scream as loudly as I did. It just kind of happened.
I was out of the bed in a flash, groping for the light switch on the wall while the intruder attempted to get up. He ended up getting tangled in the covers and falling off the bed with a loud thump, just as I found the light. I promptly reached for a weapon, but seeing as this was Seth's bedroom, my options were limited. The heaviest, most dangerous object I could readily grab ahold of was Seth's dictionary, a leather-bound monstrosity that he kept on hand because he "didn't trust the Internet."
I stood poised and ready to literally throw the book at the intruder as he scrambled to his feet. As he did and I got a good look at him, I noticed something crazy. He looked . . . familiar. Not only that, but he kind of looked like Seth.
"Who are you?" I demanded.
"Who are you?" he exclaimed. He seemed more confused than anything else. I don't think he found the threat of a five foot four woman with a dictionary all that frightening.
Before I could answer, a hand touched my arm. I yelped and threw the dictionary out of instinct. The guy dodged, letting the book crash harmlessly against the wall. I spun around to see who'd touched me and found myself looking into the eyes of a white-haired woman with gold cat-eye glasses. She was wearing flowered pajama bottoms and a pink sweatshirt with a crossword puzzle on it. She was also wielding a baseball bat, which was pretty astonishing - not just because it was more dangerous than a dictionary but also because I hadn't known Seth owned one.
"What are you doing here?" she asked fiercely. She glanced over at the shirtless, dumbfounded guy. "Are you okay?"
For half a second, I actually toyed with the idea that I had somehow let myself into someone else's condo. Like, maybe I was just one door over. This scene was so ridiculous that a mix-up seemed far more likely. It was only the obvious evidence - like my key and Seth's University of Chicago teddy bear watching this spectacle - that drove home the fact that I was indeed where I was supposed to be.
Suddenly, the sound of the front door opening and closing rang through the condo. "Hello?" came a blessedly familiar voice.
"Seth!" exclaimed all three of us in unison.
Moments later, Seth appeared in the doorway. As usual, he looked adorable. His reddish brown hair was typically unkempt, and he was wearing a Dirty Dancing T-shirt that I'd never seen before. Despite my panic and confusion over this current situation, the concerned part of me still noted the little signs of fatigue on Seth's face, the dark circles and lines of weariness. He was thirty-six and usually looked younger than his age. Not today.
"Seth," said the bat-wielding woman. "This lady broke into your house."
He looked at each of us in turn before resting his gaze on her. "Mom," he said quietly, "that's my girlfriend. Please don't bludgeon her."
"Since when do you have a girlfriend?" asked the guy.
"Since when do you have a baseball bat?" I asked, recovering my composure.
Seth cut me a wry look before gently trying to remove the bat from the woman's hands. She didn't let go. "Georgina, this is my mom, Margaret Mortensen. And that's my brother Ian. Guys, this is Georgina."
"Hi," I said, feeling surprise of a different sort. I'd heard a lot about Seth's mother and younger brother but hadn't expected to meet them anytime soon. Seth's mother didn't like to fly, and Ian was . . . well, from the stories Seth and Terry told, Ian was just hard to track down in general. He was the wayward Mortensen brother.
Margaret relinquished the bat and put on a polite but wary smile. "It's very nice to meet you."
"Ditto," said Ian. I now understood why he looked familiar. Aside from the fact I'd probably seen a picture of him somewhere, he also shared some of Seth's and Terry's features. He was tall like Seth, but with Terry's thinner face. Ian's hair was all brown, with no coppery hint, but it had that same messy look that Seth's did. Except, on closer examination, I had the feeling Ian's had been purposely styled that way with the help of much time and product.
Seth suddenly did a double take between Ian and me. He didn't even have to say anything for me to guess the question on his mind. Or questions, perhaps. My nightgown and Ian's shirtlessness undoubtedly raised a number of them.
Ian's defense came swift and certain. "She got into bed with me."
"I thought he was you," I said.
Seth's mother made a strange noise in her throat.
"You were supposed to be on the couch," said Seth accusingly.
Ian shrugged. "It's uncomfortable. And you weren't home yet, so I figured there was no harm done. How was I supposed to know some woman was going to come manhandle me in my sleep?"
"I didn't manhandle you!" I cried.
Seth rubbed his eyes, again reminding me how exhausted he was. "Look, what's done is done. Why don't we all just go to bed - where we're supposed to - and then get to know each other in the morning, okay?"
Margaret eyed me. "She's going to sleep in here? With you?"
"Yes, Mom," he said patiently. "With me. Because I'm a grown man. And this is my home. And because in thirty-six years, this isn't the first woman to stay over with me."
His mother looked aghast, and I groped for a more comfortable topic. "Your shirt's great." Now that she wasn't threatening to strike me, I could see that the crossword spelled out her five granddaughters' names. "I love the girls."
"Thank you," she said. "Each one of them is a blessing, born within the holy confines of wedlock."
Before I could even fumble a response to that, Ian groaned. "Lord, Mom. Is that from that Web site I told you not to order from? You know their stuff's made in China. I know this woman who could have made you one out of sustainable organic fabric."
"Hemp is a drug, not a fabric," she told him.
"Good night, you guys," said Seth, pointing his brother to the door. "We'll talk in the morning."
Margaret and Ian murmured their good nights, and she paused to kiss Seth on the cheek - which I actually thought was pretty cute. When they were gone and the door was closed, Seth sat on his bed and buried his face in his hands.