I sat as well, ready to get up, but Seth must have been feeling bold this morning. He wrapped his arms around my waist and shifted me onto his lap, pressing himself against my back so that his lightly stubbled face buried itself in my neck and hair. I felt his body tremble with the intake of a heavy, deep breath. He exhaled it just as slowly, like he sought control of himself, and then strengthened his grip on me.
"Georgina," he breathed against my skin.
I closed my eyes, and the playfulness was gone. A dark intensity wrapped around us, one that burned with both desire and a fear of what might come.
"Georgina," he repeated. His voice was low, husky. I felt like melting again. "Do you know why they say succubi visit men in their sleep?"
"Why?" My own voice was small.
"Because I dream about you every night." In most circumstances, that would have sounded trite, but from him, it was powerful and hungry.
I squeezed my eyes tighter as a swirl of emotions danced within me. I wanted to cry. I wanted to make love to him. I wanted to scream. It was all too much sometimes. Too much emotion. Too much danger. Too much, too much.
Opening my eyes, I shifted so that I could see his face. We held each other's gazes, both of us wanting more and unable to give or take it. Breaking the look first, I slipped regretfully from his embrace. "Come on. Let's go eat."
Seth lived in Seattle's university district - the U-district to locals - and was within easy walking distance to assorted shops and restaurants that lay adjacent to the University of Washington's campus. We found breakfast at a small café, and omelets and conversation soon banished the earlier awkwardness. Afterward, we wandered idly up University Way, holding hands. I had errands to run, and he had writing to do, yet we were reluctant to part.
Seth suddenly stopped walking. "Georgina."
His eyebrows rose as he stared off at something across the street. "John Cusack is standing over there."
I followed his incredulous gaze to where a man very like Mr. Cusack did indeed stand, smoking a cigarette as he leaned against a building. I sighed.
"That's not John Cusack. That's Jerome."
"Yup. I told you he looked like John Cusack."
"Keyword: looked. That guy doesn't look like him. That guy is him."
"Believe me, he's not." Seeing Jerome's impatient expression, I let go of Seth's hand. "Be right back."
I crossed the street, and as the distance closed between my boss and me, Jerome's aura washed over my body. All immortals have a unique signature, and a demon like Jerome had an especially strong one. He felt like waves and waves of roiling heat - like when you open an oven and don't stand far enough back.
"Make it fast," I told him. "You're ruining my romantic interlude. Like usual."
Jerome dropped the cigarette and put it out with his black Kenneth Cole oxford. He glanced disdainfully around. "What, here? Come on, Georgie. This isn't romantic. This place isn't even a pit stop on the road to romance."
I put an angry hand on one hip. Whenever Jerome interrupted my personal life, it usually heralded a series of mishaps I'd never wanted to be involved in. Something told me this was no exception. "What do you want?"
I blinked. "What?"
"We've got a meeting tonight. An all staff meeting."
"When you say 'all staff', do you mean like all staff?"
The last time Seattle's supervising archdemon had gathered everyone in the area together, it had been to inform us that our local imp wasn't "meeting expectations." Jerome had let us all tell the imp good-bye and then banished the poor guy off to the fiery depths of Hell. It was kind of sad, but then my friend Hugh had replaced him, so I'd gotten over it. I hoped this meeting wouldn't have a similar purpose.
He gave me an annoyed look, one that said I was clearly wasting his time. "That's the definition of all staff, isn't it?"
"When is it?"
"Seven. At Peter and Cody's. Don't be late. Your presence is essential."
Shit. I hoped this wasn't actually my going away party. I'd been on pretty good behavior lately. "What's this about?"
"Find out when you get there. Don't be late," he repeated.
Stepping off the main thoroughfare and into the shadow of a building, the demon vanished.
A feeling of dread spread through me. Demons were never to be trusted, particularly when they looked like quirky movie stars and issued enigmatic invitations.
"Everything okay?" Seth asked me when I rejoined him.
I considered. "In as much as it ever is."
He wisely chose not to pursue the subject, and he and I eventually separated to take care of our respective tasks. I was dying to know what this meeting could be about but not nearly as much as I wanted to know what had made me lose my energy overnight. And as I ran my errands - groceries, oil change, Macy's - I also found the strange, brief dream replaying in my head. How could such a short dream have been so vivid? And why couldn't I stop thinking about it?
The puzzle distracted me so much that seven rolled around without me knowing it. Groaning, I headed off for my friend Peter's place, speeding the whole way. Great. I was going to be late. Even if this meeting didn't concern me and my impending unemployment, I might end up getting a taste of Jerome's wrath after all.
About six feet from the apartment door, I felt the hum of immortal signatures. A lot of them. My friends' auras, familiar and beloved, sang to me instantly. A few others gave me pause as I tried to remember who they belonged to; the greater Puget Sound area had a host of hellish employees that I almost never interacted with. One signature I didn't recognize at all. And one...one seemed almost familiar. I couldn't quite put my finger on who it belonged to, though.
I started to knock, decided an all staff meeting deserved more than jeans and a T-shirt, and shape-shifted my outfit into a brown dress with a low-cut, surplice top. My hair settled into a neat bun. I raised my hand to the door.
An annoyed vampire I barely remembered let me in. She inclined her chin to me by way of greeting and then continued her conversation with another vampire I'd only met once. I think they worked out of Tacoma, which as I far as I was concerned might as well be annexed to Hell itself.
My friend Hugh, dark-haired with a large frame, paced around while chatting animatedly on his cell phone. Jerome lounged in an armchair with a martini. His little-seen lieutenant demonesses stood in a corner, keeping to themselves as always. Peter and Cody - my good friends and the vampires who lived here - laughed about something in the kitchen with a few other hellish employees I only distantly knew.
It could have been an ordinary cocktail party, almost a celebration. I hoped that meant no smiting tonight since that would have really put a damper on the atmosphere. No one had noticed my arrival except for Jerome.
"Ten minutes late," he growled.
"Hey, it's a fashionable - "
My words were cut off as a tall, Amazonian blonde nearly barreled into me.
"Oh! You must be Georgina! I've been dying to meet you."
I raised my eyes past spandex-clad double-D br**sts and up into big blue eyes with impossibly long lashes. A huge set of beauty pageant teeth smiled down at me.
My moments of speechlessness were few, but they did happen. This walking Barbie doll was a succubus. A really new one. So shiny and new, in fact, it was a wonder she didn't squeak. I recognized her age both from her signature and her appearance. No succubus with any sense would have shape-shifted into that. She was trying too hard, haphazardly piling together an assortment of pseudo male-fantasy body parts. It left her with a Frankensteinian creation that was both jaw-dropping and probably anatomically impossible.
Unaware of my astonishment and disdain, she took my hand and nearly broke it in a mammoth handshake.
"I can't wait to work with you," she continued. "I am so ready to make men everywhere suffer."
I finally found my voice. "Who...who are you?"
"She's your new best friend," a voice nearby said. "My, my look at you. Tawny's going to have a tough standard to keep up with."
A man elbowed his way toward us, and whatever curiosity I'd felt in the other succubus' presence disappeared like ashes in the wind. I forgot she was even there. My stomach twisted into knots as I ID'd the mystery signature. Cold sweat broke out along the back of my neck and seeped into the delicate fabric of the dress.