When I showed up at the bookstore, it had once again opened without me. Oddly, though, despite exactly the same staff working today, I didn't get the same boisterous greetings as yesterday.

Casey and Janice, on the registers, paused in their work to watch me walk in, their expressions enigmatic. Janice leaned over, murmuring something in the other woman's ear. When they noticed my curious look, they both forced smiles. "Hey, Georgina."

"Hey," I responded, puzzled and slightly uncomfortable.

Passing by the information desk a moment later, I found Beth regarding me with an equally peculiar look.

"How's it going?" I asked when she didn't say anything.

"Fine." She hastily turned to the computer screen in front of her.

Now, I'd been subjected to my share of strange looks upon coming into work before, but this was weird even for me.

Sometimes, after being with a lover, their absorbed life energy gave me a glamour that unconsciously attracted mortals. It was the same glow that Hugh had teased me about during poker. That was not to blame now, however. My last fix, as I'd told Bastien, had occurred a few days ago. The glow would have weakened by now. Besides, I know entranced looks when I saw them. These were not it. These were curious, what-is-she-doing looks. The kind of looks you get when you have food on your face or a missing button. The likelihood of either of those seemed low, but I ducked into the restroom anyway, just to check.

Nope. Flawless. A long denim skirt and a navy, off-the-shoulder sweater. Both smooth and perfect. Makeup in place. Unbound hair hanging to the bottom of my shoulder blades. A typical look for me. Nothing to warrant this attention.

Assuming I was reading too much into things, I continued on to thecafe,getting a friendly nod from Seth as he worked in his corner. At least he was behaving normally.

A new barista bustled at the espresso bar, and she nearly dropped the cups she held upon seeing me.

"H-hi," she stammered out, wide-eyed, looking me over from head-to-toe.

"Hi," I returned. This woman didn't even know me. Why was she acting weirdly too? "Medium white-chocolate mocha."

It took her a moment to churn into action, writing my order on a cup. As she rang it up at the register, she asked curiously, "You're Georgina, right?"

"Um, yeah. Why?"

"Just heard of you, that's all." She looked back down.

She said no more to me after that, simply making and handing me the mocha. Taking it, I walked over to Seth and sat across from him. The barista continued watching us with interest, though she immediately turned away upon catching my eye.

"Hey," Seth greeted me, eyes and fingers busy.

"Hey," I returned. "Everyone's acting really weird today."

He glanced up. "Are they?" I immediately recognized the thrall he fell into when his writing seized him. He became even more distracted and scattered than usual under such conditions. A succubus should be so lucky to have that kind of effect on a man.

"Yeah. Have you noticed anything? I feel like people are staring at me."

He shook his head, stifling a yawn before returning to typing. "Things seem the same to me. I like your sweater. Maybe it's that."

"Maybe," I conceded, slightly mollified by the compliment, even if I didn't believe it. Not wanting to distract him further, I stood up and stretched. "I should get back to work." Glancing over at the espresso bar, I noticed Andy, one of the cashiers, buying coffee. "There!" I hissed to Seth. "Did you see that?"

"See what?"

"Andy just smirked."

"No he didn't."

"He did. I swear it."

When I went downstairs, back to the main part of the store, I passed Warren. Mid-fifties and strikingly handsome, the store's morally questionable owner had once been a regular for me before I'd promised Jerome I'd go back to seducing good men. Warren and I had not had sex in some time. Considering my current regiment of decent souls, I kind of missed having an occasional guilt-free one.

"Hello, Georgina." I was relieved to see he at least didn't give me any of those gaping looks. "Been up talking to Mortensen, I presume?"

"Yes," I agreed, wondering if I was going to be chastised for not getting to work right away.

"Pity you had to take the stairs. We do have an elevator, you know. "

Now I stared open-mouthed. Of course we had an elevator. It was key operated, there for handicapped customers and shipment transport, and was almost never used otherwise. "Yes. I know that."

Warren winked at me and continued on his way upstairs. "Just making sure."

Shaking my head, I went back to the main floor and took over a register, giving Andy his lunch break. Janice and Casey remained stiff with me at first, eventually warming somewhat as time progressed. Other staff, moving in and out around me, continued to give me wondering looks, occasionally whispering to each other when they thought I wouldn't notice.

When Seth passed by at one point to tell me he had to run errands but would see me later, I thought Beth - dropping off a book - might pass out.

"All right," I exclaimed once Seth was gone, "what's going on here?"

Casey, Beth, and Janice all turned sheepish.

"Nothing, Georgina, honest." Beth gave me what was apparently supposed to be a winning smile. The others remained silent, faces perfectly innocent, nigh angelic.

I didn't believe any of it, of course. Something weird was going on. Weirder than usual. I needed answers, and there was only one person in the store candid enough to give them to me. Shutting down my register, I stormed back to my office where Doug sat occupied by the computer.

Bursting in, I opened my mouth, ready to rant and rave. He jumped about two feet in the air at my sudden arrival, reflexes kicking in with astonishing speed so as not to slosh coffee from the cup he had just raised to his lips. There was a funny look on his face, almost like guilt. No doubt another Tetris game was in progress.

But it wasn't that that delayed my tirade. A strange feeling was creeping along my flesh - a feeling that brushed my immortal senses, rather than the usual five that accompanied a human body. It felt weird, almost uncomfortable. Like nails raking down a chalkboard. Nothing I could identify or had even ever felt before. I looked around the room, half-expecting to find another immortal lurking, even though that strange sensation didn't quite touch me like the signature I'd usually feel off of an individual.

Doug drank from the cup and then set it down, watching me with bemused calmness. "Something I can help you with, Kincaid?"

Blinking, I gave the office another once-over and then shook my head. The feeling disappeared. What the hell? I could have blamed it on stress-induced imagination, but after over a millennium of succubus life, I doubted my immortal senses would start falling prey to hallucinations now. And yet the only thing in here that could possibly be construed as supernatural or divine was Doug's Tetris mastery. That, I thought wryly, had more to do with hours of skirting work than any sort of magic.

Remembering my righteous fury, I pushed aside that momentary weirdness and ratcheted my anger back up to the other weirdness in my life.

"What the f**k is going on?" I exclaimed, slamming the door.

"My sweet Tetriss kills?"

"No! With everyone! Why is everyone treating me so strangely today? They keep staring at me like I'm a freak or something."

Doug's expression stayed baffled, and then I saw understanding flood his face. "Ah. That. You really don't know?"

I could have grabbed his neck and shook him. "Of course I don't know! What's going on?"

Casually, he moved some papers around on the desk and lifted up a copy of American Mystery. "You read Seth's story yet?"

"I haven't had time."

He tossed me the magazine. "Do it. Go take your dinner break somewhere - not here - and read. I won't leave until you get back."

Looking at the time, I realized his shift was nearly over. "But what's that got to do with - "

He held up a hand to silence me. "Just read it. Now."

Scowling, I took the magazine and left the store, settling myself at one of my favoritecafesdown the street. With clam chowder secured, I turned to the first page, wondering what in the world Doug expected me to find.

As Seth had explained a few weeks ago, the story was more of a self-contained mystery, dealing little with the overarching psychology and development of his characters. Cady and O'Neill worked for a fictitious institute based out of Washington, D.C., one that researched and secured archaeological and artistic relics. Thus, the two often found themselves liberating art from international thieves or uncovering mysterious code on a piece of pottery. In traditionally gendered styles, Bryant O'Neill worked as a sort of field agent, doing most of the physical work, getting into a lot of fist-fights and whatnot. Demure Nina Cady focused on the research, often staying up late to unravel some key piece of evidence in an ancient text.

Tags: Richelle Mead Georgina Kincaid Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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