At least back in the hotel room, I was able to sit down. I didn't realize until that moment just how much I'd been asking of my battered body to stand for that long. Hugh had been right about one thing: being mortal changed everything. I couldn't shrug off getting hit by a car now the same way I could have as a succubus. My doctor had given me a prescription for Vicodin, but I was pretty sure I didn't want to be strung out on drugs for my grand reunion with Seth. I settled for ibuprofen and began the agonizing process of waiting.
I'd actually dozed off when I heard the room's door click open. I sprang up from the bed, only getting half a glance at myself in the mirror before I moved toward the door. Seth entered, freezing when he saw me. The door swung shut behind him, and I too came screeching to a halt, too stunned to move. Part of it was that same wonder and rapture of seeing him, just as it had been in the bookstore. Only, now he was right here, alone in the same room with me. It was almost too much to handle. The rest of my inability to react came from simply forgetting what I'd wanted to say. I'd rehearsed a hundred speeches and apologies earlier, and all of them abandoned me now. I fumbled for something - anything - to say that would fix all of the hurt between us.
"Seth - "
I never got another word out. In the space of that breath, he crossed the distance between us and wrapped his arms around me, nearly lifting me off the ground in a giant hug.
"Thetis," he breathed against my neck.
"Ow," I squeaked.
He instantly set me down and opened his arms, staring curiously. "The car? But it's been . . ." Curiosity changed to wonder. "It's true, isn't it? You're really . . ."
". . . human," I supplied, catching hold of his hand. Even if that hug had been quite the test of my ribs, I hated to lose all contact with him. After the chasm that had stretched between us recently, even that small touch of his fingers was like magic to me.
Seth nodded wonderingly, drinking me in. "They told me . . . they tried to explain it. I understood, but somehow I just couldn't . . . I just couldn't wrap my mind around it. I'm still not sure I can. You look the same."
"I got to keep the same body," I said. "Parting gift."
"Yeah, but it's just as perfect . . . just as beautiful. I don't know. I thought as a human you'd look . . . ordinary."
"Stop," I said, feeling flustered. I ran a nervous hand over my hair. This conversation wasn't going how I expected. "I probably have bedhead." My makeup had probably smudged while I slept too.
He grabbed my other hand and - gently - drew me near. "You look perfect."
I shook my head, still needing to summon one of my wellprepared speeches. "Seth, I'm so sorry. Sorry for everything that I - "
"Shh," he murmured. "Thetis. Georgina. Letha. It's all right. You have nothing to apologize for."
Now I stared in wonder. "I have everything to apologize for. What I did to you - "
" - was a lifetime ago," he said.
"But it was still me," I argued. "Still this life."
"What, and you can't be forgiven for that? For something you did when you were still in your teens?"
I wasn't sure how I'd switched from apologizing to trying to condemn myself, but there I was, doing it anyway. "We were still married. Or, well, I mean . . . I was to him. I broke my vows. It was wrong."
"And I was wrong - or he was wrong, whatever - to have been so oblivious to how you were feeling. We were both at fault, Georgina. We both screwed up - many times." Seth released my hands and gently cupped my face in his. "And I daresay we've paid for it a hundred times over. How long do we have to be punished? Are we beyond forgiveness?"
I had to look away then, for fear of tears forming in my eyes. Last year, not long after I'd met Seth, I'd discussed some of these same things with Carter. He'd told me that no one - not even a succubus - was beyond forgiveness and redemption.
"But what you said . . . I hurt you so much. . . ."
Seth sighed. "I know. And I'm sorry. It was all such a shock, the hypnosis . . . I still remember it all, but it's taken on kind of a dreamlike quality now. Like it's something I saw on TV rather than something I experienced. It was all a long time ago, and we've both changed. I was coming to you that night at the bowling alley to talk about it. I was still confused but knew enough to realize I'd acted rashly. Then, when you were hurt, and they told me you could actually die . . ."
He trailed off, and I dared a look upward. "Oh, no. Please don't tell me that this is one of those situations where it took a near-death experience to realize how you felt about me."
"No," he said, with one of those small, amused smiles I loved. "I knew long before that. The injuries of the past will always be a part of me, but I've grown from them - just like you have. You're the same as you've always been . . . and yet you're not. You faced me, even though you wanted to run away. You kept trying to help my family, even when I was telling you to go away. We've both changed . . . both taken the best we could of the bad. I just didn't see it right away." He sighed. "Like I said, it was the reason I came that night. Seeing you hurt only drove home what a fool I was. And then when Carter told me what happened . . ." Those warm brown eyes searched my face. "Is it true? You had a clean getaway and risked it all for me?"
I swallowed. "It wouldn't have been a clean getaway without you."
Seth tipped my head back and kissed me, his lips warm and soft. The sensation swept my body, love and desire both threatening to overwhelm me. There was no more succubus feeding, no more peering into his soul. I no longer knew his thoughts, and I didn't need to. I knew my own, knew that I loved him. And I also suddenly knew with certainty, in that same way all humans deduce such things without that benefit of succubus powers, that he loved me too.
"Is it that easy?" I whispered, when we finally broke apart. "Kiss and make up?"
"It's as easy as we choose to make it," he murmured, pressing his forehead to mine. "At least, this decision is. Nothing's truly easy, Georgina. Love and life . . . they're wonderful, but they're hard. We may mess up again. We have to be strong and decide if we can still go forward, even when things aren't perfect."
"How'd someone so young get so wise?" I asked.
He brushed a lock of hair from my face. "I learned from this woman who knows a lot about love."
I scoffed. "Hardly. I think I'm still learning more about it every day."
Seth's lips found mine again, and I forgot my worries for a moment, simply losing myself in him. With as ardent as he'd been earlier, I was kind of surprised when he was the one who stopped the next kiss.
"Easy there," he said, with a small laugh. "You feel too good. We don't want to get too carried away."
"Don't we?" I asked. "I mean, I gave you my room key, and you went right for me as soon as you came in."
"Well, yeah," he agreed, "but that was before I remembered you were hit by a car a week ago."
I tightened my arms around him and drew him toward the bed. "I'm still alive, aren't I?"
"Yes," he admitted, letting himself be drawn along. "But are you sure you don't want to just wait?"
Hugh had said something after booking my flight. Everything changes when you're mortal. You don't know what tomorrow will bring.
"I've waited long enough," I told Seth, just before kissing him.
And that was the moment I knew what it was like to have my soul back.
It sounds kind of sappy, I know. But to be able to kiss someone you love when you're fully and completely in control of yourself and know who you are . . . it's exquisite. How we love others is affected by how we love ourselves, and for the first time in a long time, I was whole. I knew who I was and in turn was able to appreciate just how much I loved him.
And of course, the whole experience was affected by the fact that I no longer had succubus powers to contend with. I didn't have to worry about stealing his life energy. I didn't have to wrestle with the guilt. I didn't have to split the desires of my heart with my predatory supernatural nature. All I had to do was touch him and exalt in the experience of being together.
We fell onto the bed, having a care for my still-bruised body. Strangely, I'd also been recovering from injuries the first time Seth and I had made love. Then too, we'd had to balance our passion with caution. It hadn't been difficult then, and it wasn't difficult now. We peeled each other's clothes away, tossing them into a careless heap on the floor. When Seth saw the bandages around my torso, he gently kissed all around them, his lips softly grazing my hips and br**sts.