"Look at you," I teased. "You used to shave."
He rubbed the stubble on his lower face. "I still shave."
"So this is the infamous occasion Seth almost missed?"
"Yup," said Terry, a rueful tone in his voice. "Apparently finishing A Talented Heat was more important than witnessing my nuptials."
"Oh," I said neutrally, "that's a really good one." I wasn't sure if it was missing-a-wedding good, but it was still one of my favorites. It might have been worth the sacrifice. "Who's the other guy beside you?"
"Our other brother. Ian."
"Another Mortensen? You guys are abundant."
"Tell me about it," said Terry. "Ian's the black sheep."
"I thought I was the black sheep," said Seth, sounding almost hurt.
"No. You're the unfocused artistic one. I'm the responsible one. Ian's the wild, hedonistic one."
"What's hedonistic?" asked Kendall.
Her father considered. "It means you run up a lot of credit card bills you can't pay, change jobs a lot, and have a lot of...lady friends."
Brandy rolled her eyes. "Good euphemism, Dad."
Only in the Mortensen family, I decided delightedly, would a fourteen-year old use a word like "euphemism."
Andrea walked over to the portrait and admired her younger self. In the picture, she wore a long-sleeved lace dress that left her shoulders bare.
"Ah, those were the days," she sighed. "Back before pregnancy ruined my body."
"Well, that wasn't entirely before pregnancy," observed her husband in an undertone. She shot him a dangerous look. Brandy groaned.
Seth tried to hide a smile and changed the subject. "That church had horrible carpet. Burgundy shag." He shook his head. "I think I'm going to get married outdoors."
"Oh my God," said Terry with mock horror, "I can't believe you just acknowledged you might get married. I thought you were married to your writing."
"Hey, I've never had a problem with polygamy."
Kendall's eyes widened. "What's polygamy?"
Later, when we'd finished the living room, Seth and I offered to start cleaning up while Terry and Andrea put the brood to bed. The girls resisted, clinging to Seth and me, wanting us to talk and come back tomorrow.
"My nieces think you're a rock star," he observed as we washed brushes in the kitchen. "I think they like you better than me."
"I'm not the one they had to tear Kayla from. Hey, does she ever talk?"
"Sometimes. Usually when there's bait involved - like candy or small objects she might choke on."
We washed the brushes in silence until I brought up the topic that had been on my mind ever since he'd mentioned it.
"An outdoor wedding, huh?"
The notion of Seth getting married held a perverse fascination for me. Fascinating because I was female and attracted to such things. Perverse because I knew I wouldn't be the bride at such an event. Succubus logistics obviously made that impossible. Then, of course, there was the fact that my mortal marriage had not gone so well. In addition to me cheating and pushing my husband into a debilitating depression, it had later resulted in me selling my soul and joining the ranks of hell. That didn't make for a good matrimonial track record.
Seth cut me a look, eyes amused. "Yup."
"I didn't know guys ever thought about that kind of stuff."
"Sometimes we do."
"You got any other details worked out? Or just the outside lovefest part?"
He pondered this as we returned to the living room. He wore the intense expression that seized him when he was trying to write a certain line or think of something clever to say. "I want a good buffet," he said. "Not one of those cheap ones with cold cuts. And no bows on the chairs or anything like that. Man, I hate those."
"Wow. I guess you've got it all figured out." I began pulling masking tape off the trim while he knelt down to gather more brushes.
He continued on, still considering. "And I want my bride to wear open-toed shoes."
He looked up with astonishment. "Because toes are sexy."
I looked down at my own bare feet. They were small and cute, each toenail painted a pale lavender. Andrea hadn't had any shoes my size.
I gave him a sly smile. "Like these toes?"
He looked away and returned to his work.
Forgetting my masking tape, I strolled over to him, trying not to laugh. "Why Seth Mortensen, do you have a fetish?"
"It's not a fetish," he replied evenly. "Just an appreciation."
This time I did laugh. "Oh yeah?" I moved my foot out to tickle his arm, wiggling the toes. "You appreciate these toes?"
"I appreciate everything about you - even how mean you are."
I crouched beside him and slung an arm around him. "To think, all this time I've been prancing around you in low-cut shirts and no underwear, in awe of your stalwart resistance, when really it was my toes - "
"No underwear?" he interrupted. "Wait. Are you wearing any now?"
"My lips are sealed. You'll have to find out the old-fashioned way. I'm not going to talk. "
"Oh," he said in a warning voice, "we have ways of making you talk."
In one surprisingly quick motion, Seth sprang up and rolled me onto my back. One arm pinned me and the other held a paintbrush over me, wet with paint.
"Hey!" I cried. "That's not sexy. That's not even cool." Actually, being pinned to the floor by him was about as sexy as it got.
He stabbed it toward me playfully, never actually making contact, but I flinched anyway. "What's the problem?" he teased. "You can just shape-shift it away."
"Oh! You're a twisted bastard."
His lips quirked into a wicked smile, and he dabbed the brush at my cheek, leaving a small streak of paint. A second later, he added a matching mark on the other cheek.
"Ready for battle," he declared.
I yelped in dismay, then used his momentary satisfaction to break free and reverse the situation, rolling him over. Now I hovered on top of him, one hand on his chest, the other on his arm.
"I'm learning more about you every day," I observed, leaning my face toward his. My hair had come undone from its haphazard ponytail and now hung down, almost creating a curtain around him. "You've got a real dark side."
"Is that a problem?"
"Actually I kind of like it."
I lowered my mouth and gave him what we had now dubbed a "stealth kiss" - the kind of semi-deep kiss perfected at the concert that just pushed the envelope of succubus absorption.
I pulled up a moment later, my lips still tingling from where we'd touched. He shifted one hand to the small of my back while his other tangled itself up in my hair. A lazy and contented smile played on his face. "You want to go grab something to eat after this?"
"What do you have in mind?"
"Anything. So long as the company stays this good."
I smiled and leaned down to kiss him again, only this time I had trouble keeping the kiss as stealthy as it should have been. When I should have broken away, I kissed him a little harder instead, letting my tongue probe more boldly into his mouth. Surprisingly, what abruptly stopped this indiscretion was not the twinge of energy transfer, but Seth himself.
"Thetis," he warned, pushing me away - not harshly, but not gently either.
I stared, my better judgment suddenly scrambled. I wanted to kiss him again. And again. To hell with the succubus thing.
And it wasn't just because of the chemistry or the physical roughhousing, the comments about my toes and lack of underwear. It was about everything tonight. Pretending I was part of his family. Talking about weddings that could never happen. I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Joy and delight over the way just being around him felt. Knowing he loved me for both my inner and outer selves. A warm contentment that his presence naturally brought on. And, of course, the dark emotions were there too. Anger that our relationship could never be complete. Despair that he was not immortal. Jealousy that I could never be his bride. What had Jerome said? That being with me denied Seth all the normal things in life? Kissing him was a base, anxious reaction to all these emotions I couldn't otherwise deal with.