As for me...I was losing myself. I didn't care about anything else but him inside me, as close as I'd ever been able to get to Seth. It still seemed like something had to give, something had to stop us. But it didn't. I became more than a conqueror. I was a ravager, taking what I wanted with no thought of the consequences.
I rode on top of him, bringing myself down hard each time, willing him to pierce right through me. My hands held him down as I thrust, not that he was trying to get away. My br**sts shook as our bodies moved together, the ni**les still hard and sensitive. I heard the slap of skin on skin each time I moved down, forming a rhythm with our ragged breathing.
I was drowning in Seth, in his sweat and in his touch. I was liquid and golden, merged into him. My body ached, unable to get enough of him, and I moved harder still. I knew exactly which angle I needed to make myself come, and I didn't even try to hold back the waves and waves of pulsing bliss that racked my body. Small crackles of energy passed between us occasionally - not the usual absorption that occurred with a victim, but the inevitable sharing that happened between an incubus and succubus, two creatures whose bodies were made to collect the power of life.
I needed to consume Seth, take as much of him as I could. I had no other purpose. Time passed. My body took its pleasure greedily and often. I said his name over and over, sometimes whispering it, sometimes screaming it, until finally exhausted, I couldn't move anymore. I stopped, nearly collapsing against him.
Barely able to work my lungs anymore, I struggled to get the air I needed. He was still inside me, still ready, but I had nearly rubbed myself raw. My throat was dry and painful. Sweat formed a slick coating on me, and I hung over him panting and desperate, an animal who had just sated her hunger with no concern for who lay beneath.
He watched me intently, running a careful hand over my damp cheek. Then, at some unspoken signal between us, he flipped me over onto my back to at last finish himself off. Gripping my ankles and putting them over his shoulders, he knelt before me and pushed back inside. A soft whimper passed over my lips. I was jelly now, unable to do anything but lay there and let him have his way with me. My arms spread out carelessly over my head, fingers brushing the black headboard, and I closed my eyes, just letting myself feel Seth taking me now. I was weak and spent, but it still felt wonderful. I opened my eyes and watched him working hard against my body, at last able to give in to his own pleasure. He'd held back for so long for my benefit, waiting until I had satiated my lust. Now he was the greedy one, ravaging me in the way he wanted. At last, he climaxed with a small groan, closing his eyes briefly, holding himself against me as he came into me. When he finished, he slumped forward and pulled out, lying beside me.
We stayed like that for several moments, and then he pulled me roughly to him so we spooned, the back of my body pressed against the front of him. Both of us still breathed in heavy, torn gasps as our hearts gradually slowed. I let my cheek rest against his arm. I still shook all over from sex with Seth, with the feel of Seth inside of me and the way he had broken my body with that devastating ecstasy.
Then, as one hand tightened on me and his other ran gently over my hair, I noticed something. He didn't smell right.
I don't mean to imply that he smelled bad. He didn't. He just didn't smell like Seth. The sweat wasn't the same. There was no fleeting smell of apple, leather, and musk, no unique Seth scent. He smelled like Bastien. He was Bastien, I reminded myself sternly, and with that, the illusion shattered, the spell broke. I wasn't with Seth, no matter how perfect the shape. I was with my friend the incubus.
"Change back," I whispered.
"Change back to yourself."
He didn't ask why, and a moment later, I rested in Bastien's arms. It wasn't Seth, I realized with a dull and terrible emptiness, but it was the truth. We said no more after that, staying in bed together for the rest of the night. Sleep never came for me, however. I lay awake the whole time, staring off into the shadows.
"Should I put up Lorelei Biljan's posters now? Or wait until after E. J. Putnam's gone?"
I looked up from the invoices on my desk. I'd just reread the same line of numbers about five times without comprehending any of it, and I was having only a little better luck parsing Tammi's question.
I rubbed my eyes. "Why...would we wait?"
She shrugged. "Dunno. Just seems kind of rude to be advertising one author during another one's signing."
My mind moved slowly, probably because only 5 percent of it was actually here at the bookstore. The rest of my brainpower attempted to muddle through the disaster that was my life.
"Um...no, it doesn't matter. Put them both up. They're only a week apart, and we want Biljan to get a fair shot at publicity too. Besides, I don't think authors really get worked up over competition like that. They're pretty low-key."
Tammi ran a hand through her short red hair. "I don't know. They're famous and artistic. Seems like that's a bad combination. Temperamental and stuff. Not all writers can be like Seth. In fact, I bet when he gets angry enough about something, he could really let someone have it."
"Anything else?" I asked, a sharp note of dismissal in my voice. "Otherwise, just put up all the posters, okay?"
She gave me a startled look and left the office. When the door closed, I put my head down on the desk and groaned. Tammi, in her blissful adolescent na?vete, had no idea how close to home she had hit. Like her, I too believed Seth could display a lot of anger if given enough cause.
Like, say, his girlfriend cheating on him.
True, Bastien had been right in saying Seth and I had loose definitions of "cheating," but even I knew what did and did not qualify. There was no gray area here. No mutability. I had f**ked up hard-core.
I'd known it too, lying there in that unholy union with Bastien. After my sleepless night, I'd left him around dawn and took a cab back to Queen Anne, my body still aching. I hadn't wanted to talk to him. He'd slept so heavily, he hadn't heard me leave. No guilt weighed him down.
But me? My cup of guilt was runnething over. Not only that, I still had to make the next decision in this mess: to tell or not to tell? That was what had really bothered me all day at work. The past was over; I could only worry about it for so long. My attention now focused on how to proceed with the future.
Fortunately, Seth had worked from home today, which helped a little. He and I eventually had plans to meet up in the evening, but until that happened, I still had time to come up with something. Anything. Yet when I walked home at the end of my shift, I was no closer to an answer than I had been at the beginning of the day.
Miserable, I pulled up a chair at my kitchen table and sat down with pen and paper. Aubrey jumped up on the table's flat surface and lay down to watch me, half of her sprawling on the page. I slid her off and made the following list:
DONT TELL SETH
Pros: status quo resumes, he won't be upset
Cons: my own gnawing guilt, totally blowing the honesty thing
I considered the list for a moment, surprised that neither the pro nor con side had more items. It was just that simple. Moving farther down the paper, I wrote up the reciprocal list.
Pros: right thing to do
Cons: admitting I'm an idiot, painfully emotional blowout, inevitable breakup, a literal eternity of heart-wrenching sorrow and regret
I held the pen and looked back and forth between both lists.
"This isn't really clearing things up, Aubrey." In an effort to relieve my frustration, I hurled the pen somewhere into my living room. She watched it sail off with interest and then darted off to confirm the kill.
"What do you need to tell Seth?"
"Jesus!" I yelled, practically jumping ten feet in the air. Carter had appeared out of nowhere and now stood beside the table, looking casual and laconic. He wore a black T-shirt over a gray thermal shirt and the same jeans I swear he'd had on for the last couple decades. "Don't do that, okay? Knocking isn't a lost art."
"Sorry." He pulled a chair out and straddled it, so his long arms draped lazily over the back. Flipping his stringy blond hair out of the way, he gestured toward my list. "Didn't mean to interrupt."
"You're not," I muttered, crumpling up the paper. I tossed that into the living room too, so Aubrey could have more to hunt.
"Anything you want to talk about?" he offered.
I hesitated. Of all the people I knew, only Carter had been a steadfast believer in Seth and me having a serious relationship. He was the only one who hadn't treated it as a joke. In some ways, that might have made him a good confidante, yet it also disqualified him. I could not confess to the one person who had believed in me just how seriously I had messed things up in a weak moment.