"Wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, now would it?"
Typical. I scoffed and turned away. "I don't have time for your games. Either tell me what's going on or leave."
"I think I'll leave. But, before I do, just remember something. " He put his hand on my shoulder and turned me around to face him again. I flinched at his touch and his proximity. The demon and I were not as buddy-buddy as we had once been. "You only have one man who's a constant in your life, only one man you will always answer to. A hundred years from now, he will be dust in the earth, and I will be the one you keep coming back to."
It sounded romantic or sexual, but it wasn't. Not in the least. My tie to Jerome ran deeper than that. A binding and loyalty that literally went straight to my soul. A connection I was bound to for all eternity, at least until the powers of hell decided to assign me to a different archdemon.
"Your pimp routine is getting old."
He stepped back, undisturbed by my rancor. His eyes danced.
"If I'm a pimp, Georgina, what's that make you?"
There was an ostentatious poof of smoke, and Jerome disappeared before I could reply.
I stood alone in my apartment, turning over his words in my mind. Finally, remembering the time, I headed for the bedroom to change clothes. As I did, I passed Horatio's certificate. Its gold seal winked up at me. I flipped it over, face down, suddenly feeling queasy. I might be good at what I did, but that didn't mean I was proud of it.
I ended up only being about fifteen minutes late for my friend Peter's shindig. He answered his door before I could even knock. Taking in his billowing white hat and KISS THE COOK apron, I said, "I'm sorry. No one told me Iron Chef was being filmed here tonight."
"You're late," he chided, waving a wooden spoon in the air. "So what, you win an award and think you can forget all about propriety now?"
I ignored his disapproval and swept inside. It was the only thing you could do with an obsessive-compulsive vampire.
In the living room, I found our other friends Cody and Hugh sorting large piles of cash.
"Did you guys rob a bank?"
"Nope," said Hugh. "Since Peter's trying to provide us with a civilized meal tonight, we decided a civilized pastime was required."
From the kitchen, I could hear Peter muttering to himself about a souffle. It sort of diminished my image of a bunch of shady characters huddled around a backroom card table. "I think bridge would be more appropriate."
Hugh looked doubtful. "That's an old-person's game, sweetie."
I had to smile at that. "Old" was kind of a relative term when most of us could boast centuries. I had long suspected that among my circle of lesser immortals - those who were not true angels or demons - I had more years than any of them, never mind the optimistic claim of being twenty-eight on my driver's license.
"Since when do we even play games?" I wondered aloud. Our last attempt had involved a game of Monopoly with Jerome. Competing with a demon in a struggle for property and ultimate control is kind of futile.
"Since when don't we play games? Games of life, games of death. Games of love, of hope, of chance, of despair, and of all the myriad wonders in between."
I rolled my eyes at the newcomer. "Hello, Carter." I'd known the angel was lurking in the kitchen, just as Peter had felt me coming down the hall. "Where's your better half tonight? I just saw him. I thought he was coming too."
Carter strolled in and gave me one of his mocking smiles, gray eyes alight with secrets and mirth. He wore his usual transient ware, ripped jeans and a faded T-shirt. When it came to age, the rest of us couldn't even compare to him. We had all once been mortal; we measured our lives in centuries or millennia. Angels and demons...well, they measured their lives in eternity. "'Am I my brother's keeper?'"
Classic Carter answer. I looked to Hugh, who was, in a manner of speaking, our boss's keeper. Or at least a sort of administrative assistant.
"He had to take off for a meeting," said the imp, stacking twenties. "Some kind of team-building thing in L.A."
I tried to imagine Jerome participating in a ropes course. "What kind of team building do demons do exactly?"
No one had an answer for that. Which was probably just as well.
While the money sorting continued, Peter made me a vodka gimlet. I eyed the bottle of Absolut on his counter.
"What the hell is that?"
"I ran out of Grey Goose. They're practically the same anyway."
"I swear, if you weren't already an abomination before the Lord, I'd accuse you of heresy. "
When all the money was sorted, including my contribution, we sat around the vampires' kitchen table. Like everyone else in the known world right now, we started playing Texas Hold,em. I could play okay but fared far better with mortals than immortals. My charisma and glamour had less effect on this group, which meant I had to think harder about odds and strategy.
Peter scurried around during the game, attempting to play and watch his meal at the same time. It wasn't easy, since he insisted on wearing sunglasses while playing, which then had to be removed while he checked the food. When I commented on how this would be my second fancy dinner in two nights, he nearly had a fit.
"Whatever. Nothing you had last night will even compare to this duck I've made. Nothing."
"I don't know about that. I went to the Metropolitan Grill."
Hugh whistled. "Whoa. I wondered where you got the glow from. When a guy takes you to the Met, you can't really help but put out, huh?"
"The glow's from a different guy," I said uncomfortably, not really wanting to be reminded of a tryst I'd had this morning, even if it had been pretty hot. "I went to the Met with Seth." The memory of last night's dinner brought a smile to my face, and I suddenly found myself rambling. "You should have seen him. He actually didn't wear a T-shirt for once, though I'm not sure it made a difference. The shirt he did have on was all wrinkled, and he couldn't really tie the tie. Plus, when I first got there, he had his laptop out on the table. He'd shoved everything else aside - napkins, wineglasses. It was a mess. The waiters were horrified."
Four sets of eyes stared at me.
"What?" I demanded. "What's wrong?"
"You are," said Hugh. "You're a glutton for punishment."
Cody smiled. "Not to mention totally love struck. Listen to yourself."
"She's not in love with him," said Peter. "She's in love with his books."
"No I'm - " The words died on my lips, mainly because I wasn't sure what I wanted to argue. I didn't want them to think I only loved the books, but I wasn't entirely sure I loved Seth yet either. Our relationship had blossomed with remarkable speed, but sometimes, I worried what I actually loved was the idea of him loving me.
"I can't believe you guys are still doing the sexless-dating thing," continued Hugh.
My temper flared. I'd already taken this from Jerome; I didn't need to hear it here too.
"Look, I don't want to talk about this if you guys are just going to nag me, okay? I'm tired of everyone telling me how crazy it is."
Peter shrugged. "I don't know. It's not that crazy. You always hear about these married couples who never have sex anymore. They survive. This would be almost the same thing."
"Not with our girl." Hugh shook his head. "Look at her. Who wouldn't want to have sex with her?"
They all looked again, making me squirm.
"Hey," I protested, feeling the need to clear up a point. "That's not the problem. He wants to, okay? He's just not going to. There's a difference."
"Sorry," said Hugh. "I'm just not buying it. He can't be with you in the clothes you wear and not crack. Even if he could, no guy could handle his woman seeing as much action as you do."
It was a well-worn point in my mind, the same Jerome had made, the one that worried me more than our ability to keep our hands off each other. One of my greatest nightmares involved having a conversation akin to: Sorry, Seth. I can't go out tonight. I have to go work this married guy I met, so I can get him to sleep with me, thus leading him further and further down the road to damnation while I suck away part of his life. Maybe when I'm done, you and I can catch a late movie.
"I don't want to talk about this," I repeated. "We're doing just fine. End of story."