"You don't have to pay rent," I said. "You can stay there for free."
She eyed me curiously. "How will you afford your mortgage?"
Yes, how indeed would a poor retail-bound girl like me be able to swing that? "The condo's paid off," I explained. Let her think it was passed down through the family or something. "And my new job pays well. Look, I really don't mind you staying. It'd be worth it to me to know that the girls have you close by to help. I mean, they're going to need a strong woman around, right?"
Margaret took a few moments to answer. "Right. I just thought you'd be that woman."
"Fate has other plans," I said. Wasn't that the damned truth.
"Is that why you and Seth aren't getting along? Because you're moving? I'm surprised he doesn't just go with you. . . ."
"No, no, it's not that at all," I assured her. "It's . . . complicated. If it was as simple as moving, he would when he was able to . . . you know, when Andrea's better." I hesitated, afraid of the answer to the next question, but it was one I had to know. With no contact from Seth, the status of the Mortensens had been a mystery. "How is Andrea? Is she still doing well?"
"Yes, she's doing great. We won't know the details for sure until she sees the doctor in a couple weeks, but on the outside, things look wonderful. We're all praying."
I found myself smiling, unable to help my joy and relief. Andrea had looked good at Christmas, but I'd worried ever since then that whatever demon had made her sick before would return one of these days. Again, a doctor would have the ultimate answer, but I took Margaret's own observation as a good sign.
"Thank you," I said. "You have no idea how much that makes my night. I've needed some good news."
"Well, thank you for the housing offer. Can I let you know my answer later?"
"Of course," I said.
I wished her a happy new year and told her good night. Then, I hurried off before I cracked and asked her to deliver some sentimental message to Seth. I liked Roman's company, but I still couldn't shake the wrongness of being out with him instead of Seth tonight. After last year's miserable New Year's Eve, I'd hoped this one would be better.
"That was nice of you," Roman said, when I explained what I discussed with Margaret.
"It's an easy thing for me to do that can help a lot of people," I said. "No reason not to."
He shook his head, incredulous. "You shouldn't even need a technicality to escape Hell's reach. They should fire you out of principle."
The restaurant was tiny but elegant - and packed. I seriously doubted any connections Roman had would get us in, but through some magic, the hostess beckoned us through the crowd and led us back to a cozy candlelit corner. In it was a table covered with an old-fashioned lace cloth, as well as crystal and china place settings - for three.
I looked at her in surprise. "But there's only - "
"Hey, hope I'm not late." Carter suddenly emerged from the crowd, wearing his usual grunge wear. The hostess didn't even blink an eye. Seeing us about to sit down, he smiled. "I guess not."
"What are you doing here?" I asked. I looked to Roman, who appeared just as perplexed as I was.
"I didn't tell him any details. He called while you were inside Seth's to see if we were going to Peter's, and I told him we were going to dinner instead. That's it."
Carter waved it off. "That's as good as a homing beacon. I love this place. You're getting wine, right?"
It wasn't that I was unhappy to see Carter. It was just that when Carter appeared, there was usually a reason.
"So you heard?" I said, once we'd placed our orders and dispensed with small talk.
Carter swirled the wine in his glass. We'd ordered a nice vintage that would probably be wasted on him at the rate he drank. "That you're skipping Peter's party? Yeah, I did. Man, he's going to be pissed."
I rolled my eyes. "That's not what I mean. Are you here about the appeal we filed?"
"I'm here to have dinner with friends," said Carter demurely. "But now that you mention it . . ."
"Word gets around fast, huh?" I asked. It had been a couple hours since we'd seen Hugh, more than enough time for him to deliver the paperwork to Mei and enough for her to have told Jerome.
"Oh, I found out from him," said Carter, nodding toward Roman.
"He asked when he called me earlier," explained Roman. "He knew we'd been working on it."
"How?" I asked, startled.
"Hugh and I have had to consult him on a couple of things this week," said Roman. "Nothing that breaks any rules, of course." Carter gave him a mock toast to that. "But enough to clarify a couple points about Hell's f**ked-up legal system."
I wondered what they had needed to consult Carter on but doubted they'd tell me. I was also kind of amazed that I'd been so out of it this week that I hadn't even known my legal team had been in touch with the angel. No, on second thought, I wasn't that surprised. My misery had been pretty all-consuming.
"So what do you think our odds are?" I asked.
Carter shook his head. "I can't answer that."
"Because it breaks a rule?"
"Because it's too tempting for me to answer with a joke about a snowball's chance in Hell."
I sighed. "That's not very comforting."
"You're awfully grim about this," said Carter. "I figured there'd be a little more excitement from someone trying to win back their soul."
"It doesn't mean much without Seth," I said.
"Oh, for God's sake," said Roman. He reached for the wine bottle. "You're on the verge of getting your soul and your life back . . . and he's still what determines your happiness ? You don't need a relationship to be happy, Georgina."
"No," I agreed. "But Seth's not just any relationship. He's tied to my soul. He found me in the world of dreams. We've come together, life after life. I'm not just some girl who needs a guy around. Seth and I are connected. We both have done terrible things to each other . . . but also made great sacrifices for each other. It just seems like only half a victory to get my soul back but not be with the person who's affected it so much."
Roman surprised me by acknowledging the point. "Okay. I can see where you're coming from there."
"And," added Carter gently, "you need to replay your own words there. You and Seth have come back together, life after life. What makes you think you won't again?"
"Well, his recent actions for one," I remarked bitterly. "That and . . . I don't know. Just the look in his eyes."
"Seth had a lot thrown at him all at once. Whose idea was the hypnosis anyway?"
"Mine," said Roman. "And get that accusing tone out of your voice. It was the fastest and easiest way we had to get the information we needed."
"Perhaps," said Carter. "But there's a reason reborn mortals forget their past lives. It's a lot to process, and that kind of regression brings on too much, too fast."
"Hugh kind of said something like that too," I said.
Carter nodded, gray eyes kind. "Don't give up on Seth yet. I think he might surprise you once he's settled down. He loved you enough to always come back to you. He loved you enough to remember you, even when Hell tried to erase you from his mind. That's powerful stuff, Daughter of Lilith."
It was, and I suddenly questioned how fairly I'd been approaching this situation. My old fears had held me back from truly fighting for Seth. I also hadn't really tried to imagine what it must be like for him to have ten people in one mind.
"It could take a while," I said, unable to meet Carter's eyes. "For him to come around, I mean. And it could take a while for Hell to respond to my appeal too, right?" Both men nodded. "What do I do then? What do I do with all that time?"
"You live," said Carter. "You go on with the life you have, with the opportunities you have. You want your soul. You want Seth. If it's within your power to achieve those things, do it. If it's not, accept it and figure out what else you want."
I muddled over his words. "Part of my immediate life is dictated for me. I have to go to Las Vegas."
"What do you want to do there?" prompted Carter.
"Be happy . . . if it's possible." I knew I was being melodramatic but couldn't help it. "If I have to be there, I'd like some sort of chance at a happy life that I created. Not a fake one Hell fashioned for me." I thought about it some more. "I'd like to find out if Bastien is my friend first and Hell's servant second."