"No...I...no. No." He sat up, shaking. "Not yet."
I sat up as well, moving in one fluid and graceful motion. Tossing my hair over one shoulder, I gave him a languid smile. "Come on, I want to."
"I can't...but maybe, well maybe later we can work something out."
Both longing and reluctance showed in his expression, which I found relieving. Nice to know my charms were still working and he wasn't all business after all. Maybe this was just a first-one's-free type of deal, and he'd be more thorough in his demands later. Fine by me. It wasn't the end of the world if I didn't sleep with him, and hopefully we wouldn't even need the second batch.
"Here." Having seized control of himself, Alec held out his beer to me.
"Go ahead and try them. You can mix them in this."
I looked down at the sparkling red granules. They almost had a light of their own. That weird sensation pulsed out at me, grating my immortal senses. No way was I going to ingest the contents of this bag. I shook my head.
"I can't right now. I've got to go to another party. I promised a friend. I'll try them later, okay?"
He didn't look happy about that. "I wanted you to try it now."
"What's wrong with later?"
"Nothing I guess...just, look, don't let anyone else know, okay? I don't have a lot of this stuff. If word gets out, everyone'll want some. Right now I'm only letting special people try it."
"Am I special?" I teased.
Alec gave me a long, searching look, blatantly studying my face and the way the silk fit me. Again, the appreciation and attraction shone in his eyes, but he held himself back from my smile of invitation. "Very special."
I managed to extract myself from the party shortly thereafter but not before Alec had warned me again to keep the crystals to myself. He also urged me to let him know how I liked them.
"The second dose is even better," he promised.
Finally escaping, I breathed a sigh of relief, alone in the cool night air. As I walked to my car, I shoved the crystals into my purse, still creeped out by how they felt. They were supernatural; that much was obvious. I knew I had to get them to someone who could identify them. That, however, would have to wait a little longer since I was already past when I'd said I'd call Seth. Happily, I discovered I could no longer sense the packet once it was encased in the fabric. That was something, at least.
"Where are you at?" I asked Seth when he answered his cell phone.
"Terry and Andrea's. You want to come over?"
Spending the evening with his family sounded refreshingly ordinary after the sleaze and debauchery of Alec and that party. In fact, compared to everything else weird in my life at the moment, it sounded downright wonderful.
Identical blonde faces greeted me at the door when I arrived, both sets of lips forming a perfect 'o' when they saw me.
A moment later, Brandy appeared behind her little twin sisters. "Oh, Georgina, that dress is so pretty."
She pushed Morgan and McKenna out of the way, both still starstruck. I stepped inside the Mortensen home and found complete chaos. Sheets of clear plastic lay everywhere. Masking tape covered the wall trim. Most of the furniture had been pushed out of the living room, shoved into a pile in the hallway beyond. Those items remaining were wrapped in thick cocoons of more plastic sheeting. Paint buckets, trays, and brushes littered most of the free space, and everything - the people included - was splattered with yellow paint.
"Georgina!" squealed eight-year old Kendall, tearing toward me. Her mother, walking into the room, leapt out and tackled her daughter.
"Don't touch her!" Andrea exclaimed, tumbling to the ground. "Not in that dress."
I laughed, wanting to sweep up each one of the girls in an enormous hug, the dress be damned.
"Seth," chastised Terry, standing on top of a ladder, "why didn't you tell her this was a war zone?" The Mortensen Brothers always entertained me. Despite being younger, Terry always seemed exasperated by Seth's scattered behavior and often had to prod him into reality.
Seth sat cross-legged on the floor with Kayla, youngest of the Mortensen daughters, on his lap. Like everyone else, he had paint all over him - including his Writers Do It at Their Desks shirt. Looking as serene as a Buddhist monk, he flashed me one of his distracted smiles. "Because it's always a war zone over here. "
"Well, get her out of here and take her somewhere nice," Terry said. "No need to drag her down into this."
This immediately triggered cries of outrage from the girls.
"I don't mind staying," I told them. "I'd like to help."
Andrea rose from her tackle, one arm still around Kendall. "We're going to have to cover you up then. Come on, let's see if I've got anything that'll fit."
She released Kendall. The little girl took a step toward me but didn't touch anything. "You look like one of the ladies in the Victoria's Secret catalog."
"My favorite reading material," I told her solemnly.
Her mother groaned and led me to her bedroom, forcing us to squeeze through the furniture packed hallway. Being in Terry and Andrea's bedroom was a lot different than being in Dana's. It was messier for one thing, with an unmade bed and piles of laundry on the floor. The color scheme and decorating were a lot less coordinated too, suggesting it had all been pieced together over the years, not preplanned with a designer's cold eye. Pictures of the girls at various ages covered the walls and dressers, and free surfaces held odd pieces of jewelry, books, and change. And yet, despite that clutter, the whole room felt filled with love, like the people who occupied it were happy and cared about each other. It made the place warm and cozy, not sterile and sharp as Dana's had been. It made me feel good to be in here, jealous that I had nothing like it with another person, and almost intrusive to be in such an intimate setting. It was like eavesdropping.
"Ah, here we are," murmured Andrea, rummaging through drawers. She handed me some clothes. I slipped out of the dress and tried them on. While she had a fantastic body for having birthed five daughters, Andrea was still taller and bigger than me, so the clothes hung loose and long. Changing her mind, she handed me denim overalls instead of the jeans. They had to be rolled up at the cuffs, but the straps kept them on me. I tied my hair in a ponytail and was ready to go.
Seth laughed when he saw me.
"Hey," I said, poking him with my foot, "be nice."
"I think this is the first time I've ever seen you look anything less than..." He paused, playing with word choice. "Well-planned."
"Why, you silver-tongued romantic devil. That is the look I usually go for. Other women go for sexy or chic or beautiful. But me? Well-planned all the way."
"You know what I mean. Besides, unplanned isn't a bad look for you. Not bad at all."
His voice sounded deliciously low and dangerous, and something ignited between us as we held each other's eyes.
"You guys can flirt on your own time," said Terry briskly, handing me a roller and tray of paint. "Right now, you work for us. Think you can do this part of the wall?"
"Sure." I glanced over at Seth, whose main job still seemed to be restraining Kayla. "Why aren't you painting?"
"Because he isn't allowed to," answered Brandy, painting deftly around a doorway.
"Uncle Seth's a libation," explained Kendall.
"Liability," corrected her mother. She grinned at me. "The odds say you have to be a better painter than him. Correction: the laws of the universe say you have to be."
"Of course she is. She's good at everything." Seth watched me apply a smooth, even coat. "See?"
Painting with the Mortensens made for an utterly normal and utterly enjoyable evening. They were so funny and nice that it was hard not to love them. Working side by side, I could almost pretend I was really one of them. Like this could be my own family. They included me in everything and spoke as though Seth and I were a done deal, assuming I would be with them not only for Thanksgiving but also for Christmas and an assortment of other get-togethers.
The simple, casually extended affection made me feel happy inside, and sad too. I would never be able to quite fit in with any mortal family, even if this wacky relationship with Seth did ever stabilize.
I pushed aside a plastic-covered box and got a peek inside. Moving the sheet further, I smiled down at a framed picture of Terry and Andrea's wedding party - including a much younger Seth.