"Doug," I said, astonished at how firm and strong my voice was. It was like someone else was using my body to confront him, and I only watched. "You need to go home. Now. If you don't leave, I'll have you removed."
Of course, I had no clue how I was going to pull that off. As it was, I felt almost terrified to be facing off against him like this. My heart raced. We were standing close, thrusting our wills at one another, and he had half a head's height on me and a bigger build. I didn't really fear violence from him, but the physical intimidation was as scary as the psychological. Still, I held my ground, keeping my expression commanding and decisive.
At last, he backed down, breaking eye contact. He shrugged and gave his goofy grin to those watching, like they were in on some joke with him. "Sure. Whatever you want. I don't care. I could use a day off anyway."
He looked around again, face smug and defiant, like he'd won. After another survey of the crowd, he laughed and stalked out.
Nobody spoke or breathed after that. I drew myself up, like none of this had bothered me either. I strode purposefully away, saying to Beth as I passed: "Will you cover the desk now?"
I went upstairs to the café and had the barista make me a mocha. I took it with shaking hands and turned around to find Seth standing there. He wore a Ratt shirt today.
"Thetis," he said softly.
I walked over to one of the windows, and he followed. Outside, cars and people moved throughout Queen Anne. I watched them without seeing them. Seth moved behind me, his presence steady and reassuring. Waiting to catch me, even though I refused to fall just yet. This, I realized, was why I chose to stay with him, sexual mishaps or no.
"I suppose you witnessed all that."
"Yeah," he said. "You handled it well."
"I didn't want to handle it at all."
"Someone had to." He touched my arm gently. "You can be pretty fierce sometimes."
I shook my head, still numb. "I don't want to be fierce either."
"Georgina. Look at me."
I turned and looked. Those lovely eyes were soft and full of love, yet underscored with strength.
"You did the right thing." He rested his hands on my arms, thumbs stroking the bare skin. "You did the right thing."
"He's my friend."
"That doesn't matter."
"What's wrong with him, Seth? What's gotten into him?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
"Not to me."
He smiled ruefully. "The same thing that made you eat a bag of Taco Bell food last night."
"What? Pot doesn't do that. Make him behave like he did, I mean. Not the Taco Bell thing."
"No," he agreed. "Pot won't do that, but he was obviously on something. "
I turned back to my view, thinking. I recalled Doug's nonstop vigor, that feverish look in his eyes. Yes, it made sense, and it was saddening. I'd never known him to mess around with anything much harder than alcohol and marijuana. Yet...there was more to his exuberance lately. A drug couldn't make you good at Tetrisor churn out an album's worth of songs in under a month.
"I don't know what it could be then. I've tried almost everything once," I admitted sheepishly. Immortality allowed experimentation without the dangerous consequences mortals faced. "But I haven't made enough of a study to really ID anything. What do you think? Some kind of amphetamine?"
"I don't really know either."
I rubbed my temples, sensing a nasty headache coming on. I wanted nothing more just then than to go home and veg on the couch with Seth on one side, Aubrey on the other, and a plate of brownies on my lap. It wasn't going to happen.
"I've got to get back down there. We're short two people now. I'm going to be here until closing again."
"You want me to come over after work? I'm supposed to paint at Terry's, but I can bail on it."
I assured Seth he didn't need to change his plans for me and then returned downstairs. Functionality had resumed as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The only thing noteworthy was the way the other staff watched me now. Not with mockery or amusement, but something else. If I hadn't known better, I would have said my respect rating had just shot up.
I got home after work, drained. Weak with exhaustion, mental and physical. When I absorbed life from victims, it was usually to sustain my immortal existence and shape-shifting. But life was full of other things that required energy. Breaking and entering. Working two twelve-hours shifts in a row. Staying virtuous around the man of your dreams. Reprimanding one of your best friends and discovering he was probably addicted to something nasty.
The need for vitality itched within me, making me irritable and anxious despite my worn-out feeling. For me, that energy-longing translated into lust, a sudden need to be touched and consumed by someone I could consume in return.
I called Bastien.
"What is it now?" he asked sarcastically. "I suppose you're just going to cut to the chase and call Dana. That way you can get it over with and tell her how her neighbor has a plan to seduce her and bring down her organization. Maybe while you're at it, you can mention the break-in and get me arrested. You could even key my car if you wanted. It would be a perfect ending to my already ruined career."
"Oh shut up," I snapped, not having the patience for this. Apparently I still had some fury left in me from earlier. "First, you were not going to bed Dana last night, so get that out of your system. Second, you probably deterred her by answering the door in the first place, as stoned as you were. Third, if you'd really wanted to endear yourself to her, you would have shown more concern for me rather than coming off as an uncaring ass**le."
"How is your ankle?" he asked reluctantly.
"Fine. You know how it goes." A sprain was barely a day's concern for an immortal. "Good enough to go dancing on."
"Yes. I want you to take me out. Now. I just had the worst day ever. "
"Sorry? Are you turning me down? Since when have you been such a grudge-holder?"
"It's not just that...well, okay, maybe a little. But Bill invited me over to watch a football game."
"You hate football."
"Yeah, but I might see Dana. Sorry, Fleur . You're on your own tonight. "
Annoyed, I hung up and dialed the next best dancer I knew.
"Cody," I said, "we're going clubbing."
"Okay," he returned agreeably, "but I'll have to bring Hugh and Peter."
"Ack. They dance almost as badly as Seth."
"Yeah. But I promised I'd hang out with them tonight. Unless you want to come over here? We're playing D&D right now. Do you know how many hit points a succubus has?"
"All right, all right. Bring them along."
I hung up. It didn't really matter who came anyway. I mostly just wanted people to go out with. Companionship gave the outing some semblance of normality, though it wasn't like I needed any of them for what I was going to do.
"Jesus, woman," breathed Hugh when I answered my door an hour later. "You're kind of screwing with my sisterly feelings for you."
I had on a pleated black skirt that covered less than half my thighs. My top was off the shoulder with three-quarter sleeves, and it stopped just above my belly button, leaving my midriff bare. It was made of clinging, stretchy black lace that looked opaque in dim lighting and showed everything - and I do mean everything - in full light.
The only decision left was what body to go out in. I didn't like to do succubus work in my usual shape - the one that worked at Emerald City and slept with Seth. I wanted an anonymous face, one that could forget and be forgotten. Staring at my bathroom mirror, I considered a number of features and ethnicities. Finally, I opted for a pretty Latina look, sultry with long dark hair.
We went to the same club Bastien and I had danced at before. It played varying genres of music, but all of it was fast and heavy. It thrummed in the blood. Hugh immediately parked himself at the bar, looking exactly like the creepy guy who ogled younger women that he was. Peter seemed torn between joining him and hitting the floor. He was homebody enough to want to stay with Hugh, but I knew places like this were fertile hunting grounds for vampires and succubi alike. Reluctantly, the frumpy vampire bought a drink and then made his way to the dancers, looking hopelessly out of place. I knew he'd survive, though; he'd been doing what he did almost as long as I had.