"Yeah, they've been pretty quiet. Maybe you helped after all."
"Well, I don't think I did much." I was also starting to suspect the cult had nothing left to do. Now that their "Angel" had used them as an effective distraction during Jerome's summoning, they were no longer needed. I clicked my door open, and another curious thought struck me. "How's it going with Tawny?"
Cedric grimaced. "Well...we went out a couple of times."
"My private life is no concern of yours."
"Fair enough." I started to get in.
"But if you must know..."
I paused and arched an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Her conversation is...lacking a little," he admitted.
I couldn't help it. I laughed. "Are you seriously surprised by that?"
"Beauty's skin deep, I know...I guess I'd just hoped for a little more depth."
I chose not to comment on what he considered beautiful. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I figured you wouldn't really want more than cheap sex."
He cut me a look. "Because I'm a demon?"
"Don't look at me like that. Being romantic isn't really in your job description."
"True, true. But at the very least, I'd like to have a little understanding with my cheap sex. Someone who had some vague inkling of what I endure on a daily basis." He was still being gruff and demonlike, but there was a faint whisper of something surprisingly human under there.
I started to tell him that I didn't think that was very likely. Then, I thought of Kristin, Kristin who watched him with doe eyes and fretted over his well-being. "Someone who sort of gets your job and has an appreciation for its absurdity? Someone who's interested in helping you when you're stressed, in connecting with you and understanding things to an extent where you don't even have to say them anymore? Is that what you're looking for?"
He snorted. "Yeah, like that'll happen."
"I don't know. Maybe there's someone out there like that."
"You may not have been human for a long time, but you still cling to their delusions. That's fairy-tale stuff. You can't have that. I can't have that. See you later." He vanished, uncaring of any mortals who might see him.
I stared vacantly at where he'd been, wondering if what he said was true. Was he missing a good match right in front of him? Or was Kristin deluding herself with her crush on him? And was I deluding myself with my feelings for Seth? Was I really feeling connected to him or was it all just lust?
There was no use fretting about any of it now. Cedric didn't seem to want to kill me at the moment, so that was the best I could get.
I drove over to Bellevue, just in time for the morning commute out of the city to be winding down. Bellevue was a suburb, a city in its own right, and the restaurant we'd chosen was in Bellevue's old downtown, one that had eventually been supplanted when a mall rearranged the city's trendy areas.
The place was a quiet little bistro, tucked between a jewelry store and a bakery. Seth and Kayla were already there. She sat in a booster seat beside him, examining a stuffed unicorn while he leafed through a menu. Seeing both of them sent ripples of warmth and happiness through me.
"Hey guys," I said, sliding in across from them. Kayla gave me a shy smile, and Seth positively lit up. His hair was as messy as usual, and his T-shirt today advertised Trix, a cereal I'd forgotten even existed.
"Thanks for doing this," I said. "I really appreciate it."
Seth's smile grew, though I saw the tiniest bit of apprehension in his eyes. "Just so long as you're sure it's...you know..." He glanced over at Kayla, who was groping for her glass. Seth hastily intervened to help her before she could knock it over.
"It'll be easy," I said. "Maybe even boring. We'll just walk around and look for something resembling white stone or rock."
"And Kayla can help?"
I turned toward the little girl. She glanced between both of us, her blue eyes wide and eerily knowing.
"I think so. Again, at this point, she just senses stuff without really understanding why. If we get anywhere near Jerome, I think she'll show some sort of reaction, even if she doesn't know what it is." At least I hoped so.
After that, we didn't mention our mission for the rest of the meal. We made small talk instead and fawned over Kayla, but it was almost something we did on autopilot, something we weren't even paying attention to. Really, Seth and I were consumed by each other. It was more than just lust too, though I certainly hoped he'd noticed my low-cut top today. I found myself just aglow from his presence. I loved being close to him, feeling the joy that spread within me. It was like falling in love again. It was that connection and understanding that Cedric had said was a fairy tale.
And even when we finished up and went and scoped out our first beach, that electricity and warmth continued flowing between us. Kayla walked between us for a while, with each of us holding one of her hands. She struggled a little with the sand but seemed infinitely fascinated by the sights around her: the waves, the seagulls, other children. The rain had faded away today, and we had sunshine taunting us with the hope that spring had truly arrived.
We found no white rocks, however, and Kayla had no out-of-the-ordinary reactions like she'd had with me in the past, or even with Dante. When we got to our second beach, she began slowing down, and I realized this wasn't going to be the aggressive day of hunting I'd hoped for. After a while, Seth picked her up and carried her. She managed to stay awake until we finished our search but promptly fell asleep in the car.
I knew we'd have to call it a day, but we stopped off at a little café on the way home that served great desserts. We settled into a corner booth, Seth and me sitting side by side while I held Kayla on my lap. We decided to simply split a piece of cheesecake, and naturally, I required coffee. Kayla still leaned drowsily against me, but she'd valiantly woken up as though sensing the approach of sugar.
I brushed her hair back from her face. "Hey," I said gently. "Did you see anything magic today?" That was how she'd referred to me in the past.
She shook her head and reached up to touch my cheek in a mirror of my own gesture. "When will you be magic again?" she asked.
"I don't know," I told her. "Soon."
Seth's leg against mine was starting to stir up some illicit feelings, something I felt a little ashamed of with Kayla there. I was further startled when I glanced up at him and saw not lust in his eyes, but rather, something soft and tender.
"What?" I asked. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"Because of you," he said. "Just the way you interact with her...it's remarkable."
"Because I can get her to talk?"
He shook his head. "Nah. More than that. I've seen it with the other girls. You have a knack with kids. You'd make a great mother."
Maddie had made the same offhand comment. I don't think Seth had ever really and truly grasped how much I'd pined for children. His words filled me with both elation and sorrow. For an instant, I considered telling him about Nyx's dream and the bizarre pregnancy theory. Those things were too fragile and too precious to me, however, and the cheesecake's serendipitous arrival saved me from further deliberation.
The cheesecake was lemon raspberry, a bit adventurous for Kayla, perhaps, but she ate it without hesitation. Seth gave up on his share before us, and she and I finished it down to the last bite.
"Perfect," he mused. "I'll return her to Terry and Andrea, just in time for her the sugar rush to kick in. They'll never let her go out again." He frowned. "Will you need her again? I think she has some kind of play-date thing tomorrow."
I sighed, and reality dimmed my golden moment. "I don't know. I'm running out of close places. I'll have to head up north next, up around Edmonds, though Dante pointed out that Jerome could be farther out-out on the Olympic Peninsula or something. The summoners would want to keep him close, but 'close' could mean ten miles or a hundred."
"You're not going to be able to go out to the coast in an easy day trip," observed Seth. Under the table, his hand rested on mine out of sympathy. "I'm sorry."
I squeezed his hand in return. "It'll be as it'll be, I guess."
"I still want to help if I can."
I offered him a rueful smile. "You want to help me get back to being a succubus?"