Silence fell, save for the sound of cards and money hitting the table. Glancing around, I saw Carter watching me levelly. Only he had stayed out of the Seth bashing. This didn't surprise me. The angel usually just listened until he could interject some sarcastic or esoteric quip. This used to infuriate me, but recent events had changed my attitude toward him. I still didn't fully understand him or know if I could trust him, but I had come to respect him.

Troubled by the scrutiny, I glanced back down and discovered I finally had a respectable hand after several rounds of shit. Three of a kind. Not the greatest but passable. I raised high, wanting to get the others out before more cards came into play and made my hand less passable.

My strategy worked on the vampires. The next card fell. Seven of spades. Hugh scowled and folded when I raised again. I waited for Carter to drop out as well, but instead, he reraised further.

I hesitated only a moment before calling. As the last card was about to play, I puzzled over what the angel might have and whether I could beat it. A pair? Two pair? Ah. The last card came out. Another spade. There was now a strong possibility he had a flush. That would beat me. Still hoping I could bluff him out, I raised even more. He reraised me again, more than doubling my initial bet.

That was a lot of money to add, especially considering what I'd already put in. Centuries of investments kept me pretty comfortable, but that didn't mean I had to be stupid. What did he have? It had to be the flush. Balking, I folded.

With a pleased grin, he swept in the massive pot. When he tossed his hand over to the discard pile, the cards' edges caught, making them flip over. Two of diamonds. Eight of clubs.

" bluffed!" I cried. "You had nothing!"

Carter wordlessly lit a cigarette.

I looked to the others for confirmation. "He can't do that."

"Hell, I've been doing it for half this game," said Hugh, borrowing Carter's lighter. "Not that it's done me any good."

"Yeah...but...he's, you know. An angel. They can't lie."

"He didn't lie. He bluffed."

Cody considered, twisting a piece of his blond hair around one finger. "Yeah, but bluffing is still dishonest."

"It's implied lying," said Peter.

Hugh stared at him. "'Implied lying?' What the f**k does that mean?"

I watched Carter stack his money and made a face at him. You'd think an angel who hung around with employees of evil would be a good influence, but at times, he seemed worse than we were. "Enjoy your thirty pieces of silver, Judas."

He gave me a mock hat tip while the others argued on.

Suddenly, like a row of dominoes, conversation steadily dropped. Carter felt it first, of course, but he merely arched an eyebrow, as indifferent as ever. Then came the vampires with their heightened reflexes and sensitivity. They exchanged glances and looked toward the door. Finally, seconds later, Hugh and I sensed it as well.

"What is that?" Cody frowned, staring across the room. "It's sort of like Georgina but not."

Hugh followed the young vampire's gaze, face mildly speculative. "Incubus."

I had already known that, of course. The signatures we all carried differed by creature. Vampires felt different from imps, just as imps felt different from succubi. If one knew an immortal well enough, one could also pick up on an individual's unique attributes. I was the only succubus who inspired sensations of silk and tuberose perfume. In a room full of vampires, I would have been able to quickly determine if Cody or Peter were present.

Likewise, I immediately knew there was an incubus approaching Peter's door, and I knew exactly which incubus it was. I would have known his signature anywhere, even after all this time. The fleeting feel of velvet on the skin. A whispered scent of rum, almond, and cinnamon.

Not even realizing I'd gotten up, I flung the door open, staring with delight at the same fox-faced features and mischievous eyes I'd last seen over a century ago.

"Hello, ma  Fleur ," he said.


"Bastien," I breathed, still disbelieving. "Bastien!"

I threw my arms around him, and he lifted me up like I weighed nothing, twirling me around. When he gently set me back on my feet, he looked down at me fondly, his handsome face cracking into a grin. Until I saw it, I hadn't realized how much I'd missed that smile.

"You look exactly the same," I noted, taking in the curling black hair that touched his shoulders, the eyes so dark a chocolate brown they almost looked black as well. Unlike me, he liked to wear the shape he'd been born with, the body from his mortal days. His skin was the color of the mochas I consumed regularly, smooth and lovely. His nose had been broken when he was human, but he never bothered to shape-shift the signs away. It didn't detract from his looks any; in fact, it sort of gave him a dashing scoundrel persona.

"And you, as usual, look completely different. What are you calling yourself these days?" His voice carried a faint British accent leftover from many years spent in London after leaving the slave plantations of Haiti. He kept that accent and the French expressions of his childhood only for effect; when he chose to, he could speak American English as flawlessly as I could.


"Georgina? Not Josephine or Hiroko?"

"Georgina," I reiterated.

"Very well then, Georgina. Let me see you. Turn around."

I spun around, like a model, letting him get the full effect of this body. When I faced him again, he nodded with approval.

"Exquisite - not that I'd expect any less from you. Short, just like every other one, but the curves are in all the right spots, and the coloring is very nice." He leaned closer to me, studying my face with a professional eye. "The eyes I especially like. Catlike. How long have you been wearing this one?"

"Fifteen years."

"Barely broken in."

"Well," observed Hugh dryly, "it sort of depends on how you define 'broken in.'"

Bastien and I both turned, remembering we had an audience. The other immortals watched with bemusement, the poker game momentarily forgotten. Bastien turned on a high-beam smile and crossed the room in a few quick strides.

"Bastien Moreau." He extended a polite hand to Hugh, every inch of him polished and deferential. Incubi, after all, have just as good a sense of customer service and public relations as succubi. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

He made equally polite introductions with the rest of the group, pausing momentarily when he reached Carter. A brief flicker of surprise in Bastien's dark eyes was the only other indication that he found an angel in our midst odd. Otherwise, his surface charm remained perfect as he smiled and shook Carter's hand.

Although clearly surprised at Bastien's presence, Peter stood up dutifully. "Have a seat. You want a drink?"

"Thank you. You're too kind. Bourbon on ice, please. And thank you for allowing me to show up so unexpectedly. You have a stunning home."

The vampire nodded, mollified at someone finally appreciating his hospitality.

I, however, had other concerns and wondered what had caused the incubus to "show up so unexpectedly." I suddenly remembered Jerome's taunting surprise. "Jerome knows you're here, doesn't he?"

"Of course. Long since arranged." Our kind could not cross into another's territory without making arrangements with the local supervisor. For a group that had allegedly rebelled against the system, we had a staggering amount of rules, regulations, and paperwork. We made the 1RS look juvenile. "He told me where to find you tonight."

"And you're here because...?"

He flung a playful arm around me. "You're pushy. No "Hello, how are you"? Can't I just stop by to see an old friend?"

"Not in this business."

"How long have you known Georgina?" asked Hugh, shifting his solidly built body into a more comfortable sitting position.

Bastien turned thoughtful. "I don't know. How long has it been? Ages?"

"You have to be a little more specific than that," I reminded him, my mind slipping back to a London of long ago, recalling rough-hewn streets redolent with the scent of horses and unwashed humans. "Early seventeenth century?" He nodded, and I let my tone turn teasing. "Mostly I just remember how green you were."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Whatever. I taught you everything you know. "

Tags: Richelle Mead Georgina Kincaid Fantasy
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