Equally difficult was that not only could they not sense me, I couldn't sense them. Admittedly, a succubus didn't have the same ability to gauge human power the way a full-fledged demon could, but I could occasionally sense magic around a person or object. Today, I was completely blind. I had to rely on my strength to read people, but these dark magicians were as good at cons as Dante. They were well-versed in the art of concealing the truth.

It was almost noon by the time I visited the last name, a guy named Greg. I felt pretty discouraged by this point and even cracked and had a cigarette along the way. Greg had no storefront like Dante and mostly worked his spells out of his house, a small bungalow in Wallingford. When he answered the door, his disheveled state told me I'd woken him up. On the bright side, he recognized me, which meant I wouldn't have to convince him I was a succubus.

"What do you want?" he asked suspiciously. He was built big and could have had an impressive physique if he'd ever gone to the gym. It was obvious he hadn't.

"I wanted to talk to you about demon summoning."

"I don't know anything about it."

He started to shut the door. I stuck my foot out to block it. "Wait. Do you know anyone who would?"

"No. And even if I did, what makes you think I'd tell you?" He tried to close the door again, then paused. He narrowed his already too-small eyes at me. "There's something weird about you. No aura."

I didn't answer right away. "Maybe you're losing your touch."

This actually brought a small smile. "Not likely. What happened? Who got summoned?"

"No one. And even if they did, what makes you think I'd tell you?" I mimicked.

He laughed, a guttural sound that came from low in his throat. When the laughter faded, he studied me for several long seconds, face cunning and speculative. "Okay. I'll talk to you." He pushed the door open. "Come on in."

I gingerly stepped into his living room. The place was a disaster. Dirty dishes were piled on the coffee table, the remains of food hardened and crusty. Dust coated every piece of furniture, and the wood floor looked like it hadn't been swept since the last century. Uneasily, I wondered if my new humanlike body was susceptible to germs.

Several books were piled on the couch, their covers meant to look sinister in shades of black and red with drawings of pentagrams. It put me in mind of Evan's faux Satanic accoutrements, though as hard as it was to believe, Evan had a thousand times more class than this guy.

Greg offered me neither a chair nor refreshments, which was fine by me. He stood in front of me, arms crossed. "Well? What do you want to know?"

"I want to know if you've done any demon summoning lately."

"Not that any demons have been summoned, of course."

"This is speculative," I replied with a simpering smile. I studied as much of his home as I could while I spoke. Beyond him, I could see an equally messy kitchen with a gas stove and magnet-covered refrigerator.

"You think if I'd summoned a demon, I'd be living like this? Fuck, I'd have plasma-screen TVs and concubines."

I recalled the discussion with my friends, noting that any human who'd summoned Jerome would simply keep the demon hidden and not use it for personal gain and errands. Still, if Greg had summoned Jerome on behalf of another demon, there would have been some reward involved. Maybe it wouldn't entail TVs or concubines, but it seemed like there'd be some sign of a windfall here. Maybe he'd gotten a Swiss bank account.

"Okay. You know anyone who recently acquired concubines?"

"Nope. But I can give you some names of people who'd be more likely." He listed two of the magicians I'd already visited.

"I've talked to them."

"Sorry. Not my problem." My eyes returned to the books on the couch. I stepped toward them. "May I?"

"Knock yourself out."

I picked up one of the books, skimming through it in hopes of finding information about summoning. Nope. It was fluffy "evil" stuff, exactly like the Army of Darkness' propaganda. The second book proved the same. The third, however, was a legitimate spell book, filled with the kind of dark rites Dante practiced. Hopeful, I flipped through the pages one by one. It had some vile contents, but there was nothing about summoning. Greg's willingness to let me browse the books should have been a tip-off that they contained nothing of use.

"All done?"

I jerked around. Greg's voice was close to me-too close. I'd had my back to him while checking out the books, but now he was right behind me. I took a few steps back and bumped the couch.

"Yeah," I said nervously. "Thanks for the help. I should leave now."

"Not yet," he said, moving closer. "You just got here."

I tried to wriggle off to the side, but his hands suddenly reached out and grabbed a hold of my arms, pinning me into place.

"What are you doing?" I demanded. There went my heart rate again.

"I don't know what's going on with all this summoning stuff, but I do know there's a succubus here who doesn't feel like a succubus anymore, which probably means you can't fight like one."

I tried to break from his grasp, but his hands were like steel. "You're crazy. Of course I'm a succubus. You know I am."

"Yeah? Then shape-shift away from me. Turn into a bird. Turn into a bodybuilder."

I clenched my teeth and tried to shake his hold again. "Let me go, you son of a bitch. You hurt me, and a whole host of demons are going to show up and rip you limb from limb."

"Not so sure about that," he chuckled. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. You think any succubus would f**k someone like me?"

He shoved me down onto the couch, one strong arm pinning me in place while the other hand fumbled awkwardly under my shirt and grabbed a hold of my breast. Moving his head close, he tried to press his lips against mine, but I turned my head just in time.

"Let me go!" I screamed. I managed to wriggle a leg free and knee him in the gut. It wasn't enough to free me, but it made him scowl.

I'd worried about getting hit by cars, meteors, and structurally unsound overpasses. Never, never had I thought about being raped. It hadn't been a fear of mine for centuries, not since I realized I could shape-shift into someone larger and stronger, someone capable of throwing off any assailant.

Maybe it shouldn't have bothered me so much. I'd had sex with plenty of people I didn't like over the years. I'd always grimaced and waited it out. But there was something about this that was different. It wasn't my choice, and compounding it all was the feeling of helplessness I had. I hated not having options. I hated not being able to think my way out of something. There was nothing to be done, though. Not this time.

The most I could do was keep struggling and flailing. I did have some self-defense training, after all. I'd learned to use weapons and punch over the years. I'd nailed Niphon pretty good at Christmas. Unfortunately, what I could do now was limited with Greg on me like this. He simply outweighed me. Still, my efforts must have proven annoying because Greg growled and grabbed both my arms in an attempt to flip me over. I yelled profanities at him and got another knee-jab in, close to his groin but not close enough.

And that's when it happened.

The smell hit me first. An overwhelming and suffocating odor of natural gas. I stopped struggling for half a second. I didn't need to be human to know that meant trouble.

Before I could process that further, the kitchen exploded into flames.

Fire expanded out into the living room. It didn't quite reach us, but I think Greg must have still gotten burned because he screamed in pain and released his hold on me. His body had shielded the worst from me, and mostly all I felt was a rolling wave of heat and air.

I didn't bother to think or question anything. Greg had released me in his confusion, and I bolted. I scrambled from the couch and ran out the front door, away from the fire. Away from Greg.

I drove off as fast as I could, my Passat's tires squealing on the pavement. Sweat poured off me, and my hands could barely grip the steering wheel through their shaking. About a mile away, I heard the singing of sirens, but I couldn't spare a thought for what had happened. I couldn't think about whether Greg had made it out or not. I couldn't think about how a gas leak had miraculously saved me.

The only thing I could think about now was getting away and getting to safety.


Instinct made me drive back to Queen Anne. I operated on autopilot, my mind blank. It was only when I'd parked and gotten out of the car that my senses slowly began to return to me. Still, I tried my best to stay numb, to not think about anything right away. My stomach was growling, so I decided to focus on basic needs. I walked over to a Thai restaurant between my apartment and the bookstore, seeking the comfort of a corner table and green curry. Once I was settled, there was no avoiding it.

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