Grabbing some clothes and heading for the shower, I realized I might be witnessing a romance even more f**ked up than my own. Who'd have thought that could happen? I guessed with angels, miracles really were possible.
I finished showering and drying my hair, still pondering the puzzle of this love affair. I headed back out to the living room, wondering if I'd find more flirtatious behavior. Instead, what I found was a familiar and unwelcome immortal signature. Slimy and musky.
Niphon was sitting on my couch.
"Get out," I said immediately.
Yasmine and Vincent, finishing their breakfast at my table, looked up in surprise. Niphon gestured toward them.
"I was invited in. I didn't think it'd be a problem."
Angel and human looked distinctly uncomfortable, and I could guess what had happened. Niphon had turned up, and they'd let him inside, not knowing about our animosity. They'd probably figured he was a partner in evil which, in the most technical of ways, he was.
Vincent hastily stood up and took his empty plate to the sink. Yasmine followed.
"Well," said Vincent. "We should probably get going."
"Yeah," agreed Yasmine, grabbing her coat. Fools rushed in where angels feared to tread, apparently. "Great seeing you guys."
They left so fast that they might as well have teleported out.
I fixed my attention back on Niphon. "Get out," I repeated.
He leaned back against my couch, draping his arms over the back of it. "Letha, Letha - "
"And stop calling me that."
"Whatever you like. And don't worry, I'll be out of your hair soon. I just wanted to give you a Tawny update."
Oh God. Tawny. Please, please let her have scored last night, I silently begged. Her attitude at the bar hadn't really inspired confidence, but maybe me leaving with Jude had set a good example.
"She hasn't taken a victim yet."
"Alright, thanks," I said, pointing at the door. "You can leave now. And next time, it's really okay if you call to give me an update. Preferably when you're in the taxi that's taking you to the airport so I don't ever have to f**king see you again."
He rose from the couch, giving me a wounded look. "Fine, fine. But there is one other thing I wanted to talk to you about."
"There is nothing at all I want to talk to you about." I was on the verge of growling.
"Oh, I'm not so sure about that." His hand rested on the doorknob, but he showed no intention of actually leaving. "I think you'll be very interested. It's about your love life."
"No! We are not talking about this."
"Le - Georgina, I just want to help you," he whined. "I think it's terrible that you two can't fully express your love."
"We. Are. Fine. And don't lean against the door. I don't want your hair to leave an oil stain."
Niphon straightened up and ran a solicitous hand over the back of his head. "Look, I get why you don't want to sleep with him. It's admirable. You want to protect his lifespan, not wipe him out, etc., etc. But what if that wasn't an issue? What if I made it so that you could have sex without the dire side effects?"
"Right. And you'd do that out of the kindness of your heart."
"Well..." He shrugged and spread his hands wide. "There's always a price."
"It's not worth it. Not worth Seth selling his soul."
"I could sweeten the deal. Give him a longer lifespan...longer youth..."
"No. I swear to God, if you don't leave now, I'm calling Jerome." That was a bluff, seeing as Jerome was out of town.
"Like I said, just trying to help," Niphon said.
"Yeah, like you helped me?" I asked, not bothering to hide the sarcasm.
Suddenly, the mocking, teasing look vanished. Niphon's face grew hard. Angry. Scary.
"I did help you, Little Letha. You were no one. No one at all. Some poor fisherman's daughter in a shit, backwoods town. Some whore in a shit, backwoods town. You f**ked up your life, and I fixed it for you. I made you who you are. Erased your problems. Saved your husband. Gave you eternal life and beauty. If anything, you owe me."
"It wasn't worth it," I said, in a voice that matched his dark expression. "It wasn't worth it."
"Wasn't it? Would you have rather watched your husband commit suicide? Would you rather have died an outcast and disgraced?"
I didn't answer. I thought about the desperate look on my husband's face when he'd found out that I'd cheated on him. Even after all these centuries, that expression still haunted me. He'd been driven to such despair that he'd been on the verge of taking his own life. In selling my soul and becoming a succubus, I'd struck a bargain with Hell that made him and everyone else I knew forget me. My husband had lived and gone on with his life, forgetting I'd ever existed. Had it been worth it?
Observing my silence, Niphon's face turned taunting once more. He opened the door. "Good-bye, Georgina. Let me know if you change your mind."
He left, and I stared at the door for a long time before finally forcing my feet to start moving. The Seth soul-selling offer held no temptation for me whatsoever. That didn't trouble me. But his other words...the reminders of my past...
I sighed. I didn't want to deal with that, not with everything else going on in my life right now. And speaking of which...with two hours left until work, I decided to bite the bullet and again try to get more information about my dreams. From Dante.
His store looked as bleak as the last time I'd visited, but this time, he actually had a customer. She was a young woman, college-aged maybe, with layered brown hair and a gray sweatshirt. Seeing her, I started to step back outside, but he waved me in.
"No, no, it's okay. You can wait here." Dante glanced at the girl. Both of them sat at the shabby, velvet-covered table. "You don't mind, do you?"
She barely spared me a glance. "No! No! Hurry, go on. I want to hear more about the man."
Dante produced a dazzling grin that seemed a bit fake to me but which I suspected was actually very effective on her. Taking a step closer, I realized he was reading her Tarot cards. Several already lay on the table. He flipped another over.
"Ah, the Hierophant." His voice held a mysterious, knowing note.
"What's that mean?" she squealed.
"You don't know? You don't know anything about these?"
She shook her head. "Nothing."
"Well, the Hierophant is a great love card. It represents a romantic man, someone good-looking and charming who loves giving gifts and doing small gestures. You know the kind."
"I don't, actually," she said wistfully. "All my boyfriends have been jerks."
"Well, that's going to change," he promised.
I knew quite a bit about Tarot cards, actually. The Hierophant represented tradition, wisdom, and organized religion. He wasn't exactly a romantic figure, particularly considering he was usually depicted as a priest.
"Why is he dressed so weird?" asked the girl. "He looks like he's in robes."
"It's not weird," Dante said. "It's opulent. Remember, the Tarot is an ancient system. A guy dressed like this represented the height of fashion back in the old days. You know, a real designer label kind of guy."
I caught Dante's gaze and rolled my eyes. He maintained his poker face and flipped the next card.
"Things are looking good," he declared. "The Tower."
The Tower was pretty much the worst card in the deck.
"This shows you guys have a promising future."
"Why is it on fire?" she asked. "And why are people falling out of the windows?"
"It's all symbolic," he said hastily. "And although things look really good for when you meet this guy, it means you have to be cautious and read the signs around you."
"Oh, wow," she said. "I hope I can."
Dante gathered up the cards and stacked them neatly. "Well, I can help if you want. I could give you a package set of readings at a discount. That way, you'll have a guide as you go along. You'll be prepared for when you meet him."
I sincerely doubted she was ever going to meet this mythical guy.
"How much?" she asked hesitantly.
"Hmm, let's see." Dante turned speculative. "Well, they're normally fifty dollars. Usually, I give a five-dollar discount for packages...but, hell. I really want to see this work. I'm a romantic myself, you know? It's a stretch, but I'll do a set of six for forty dollars each. You can buy them now and then come in whenever you want to claim them."