Bastien didn't see what my problem was. "Hell doesn't even need us here," he told me one day, after I'd complained for like the thousandth time. "Think of it as a vacation. Hordes of souls are being damned here every day."

I walked over to the window of our shop and peered out onto the busy road, pressing my hands against the glass. Bicyclists and pedestrians moved past, everyone needing to get somewhere and get there fast. It could have been any ordinary weekday in Paris, but this was no ordinary day. Nothing had been ordinary since the Germans had occupied France, and the scattered soldiers in the street stood out to me like candles in the night.

Bad simile, I thought. Candles implied some kind of hope or light. And while Paris had fared better than most people realized under Nazi rule, something in the city had changed. The energy, the spirit...whatever you wanted to call it, it had a taint to me. Bastien said I was crazy. Most people were still living their daily lives. The food shortages weren't as bad here as in other places. And after shape-shifting into Aryan nation poster children with blond hair and blue eyes, we were more or less left alone.

Bastien was still going on about my glum mood while he moved about and straightened hat displays in my periphery. He'd chosen millinery as his profession for this identity, one that worked well for meeting well-to-do Parisian women. I played the role of his sister - as I so often did in other scenarios - helping with the store and keeping house for him. It was better than dance halls or brothels, which had been our previous occupations in France.

"What about your friend?" Bastien asked me slyly. "Young Monsieur Luc?"

At the mention of Luc, I paused in my dejected assessment of the world outside the hat shop. If I was going to talk about candles in the night, then Luc was mine. A real one. He was a human I'd met recently, working with his father - a violin maker. Their trade had suffered even more than ours, as the market for luxury items shriveled in these lean times.

But Luc never seemed to let their financial woes affect him. Whenever I saw him, he was always cheerful, always full of hope. The weight of so many centuries of sin and darkness were starting to take their toll on me, and being in Paris only made it worse. Yet, Luc was a wonder to me. Being able to look at the world with such optimism, with such conviction that good would prevail...well, it was a foreign concept. One I was intrigued by. I couldn't stay away from it.

"Luc's different," I admitted, finally turning from the window. "He's not part of this."

Bastien snorted and leaned against the wall. "They're all part of this, Fleur." Fleur was his long-time nickname for me over the years, no matter what identity I assumed. "I don't suppose you've slept with him yet?"

My answer was to turn away again and remain silent. No, I hadn't slept with Luc. I wanted to, though. I wanted to with the instincts of a woman who had fallen for a man, as well as the craving of a succubus to consume the energy and taste the soul of someone so good. I had never hesitated before. This was the kind of thing I'd always sought out. It was even my job. But something inside of me was changing. Maybe it was these bleak times, but whenever I looked at Luc and saw that purity radiating from him - and his growing love and trust in me - I just couldn't do it.

"He's coming by tonight," I said at last, dodging the question. "We're going for a walk."

"Oh," said Bastien. "I see. A walk. That's certain to impress Theodosia." Theodosia was our archdemoness.

I turned back around sharply, glaring at Bastien. "It's none of your business what I do!" I exclaimed. "Besides, if this is the 'vacation' you claim it is, I shouldn't need to secure a good soul."

"Souls are falling left and right around here," he agreed. "But you've still got to turn one in every once in a while. You can't spend the rest of your existence only going after bad ones."

I didn't speak to him for the rest of the day, and fortunately, business picked up quite a bit in the afternoon. It kept us both busy, though I counted down the minutes until Luc showed up that evening. He gave polite greetings to my "brother," and then I hustled us out of there so that I wouldn't have to see the knowing look in Bastien's eyes.

Luc could have passed for my brother too with his sunny golden hair. He always smiled when he looked at me, making small crinkle lines around the blue eyes I fancifully likened to sapphires. He held my arm as we passed through the evening crowd, filled with those going home after work or possibly seeking nighttime entertainment. He told me I looked beautiful, and we talked of other inconsequential things: the weather, neighborhood gossip, day-to-day affairs...

We ended up at a small city park that was a popular spot for others seeking evening strolls before curfew. We found a relatively secluded area among some trees and settled onto the grass. Luc had been carrying a small basket the entire time and revealed its contents: pastries and a bottle of wine. He didn't have extra money to throw around for that kind of thing, but I knew better than to protest. It was already done. Whatever else he'd had to sacrifice in return would be well worth it, as far as he was concerned.

He had another surprise for me as well: a book. He and I were always trading novels back and forth, and as I lay down against the grass, skimming through the pages, a strange yet warm peace blossomed within me.

"Next time you should bring your violin," I said, setting the book down. "I want to hear you play again."

He stretched out beside me, his hand finding mine. We laced our fingers together and watched the sky grow purple. "Not out here," he said. "I don't want a public concert."

"You'd charm them all," I said. "The whole city would line up and dance at your command, just like the pied piper."

He laughed, the sound as golden as his hair or even the sun itself. "And then what would I do with them?"

"Line them up and send them all away so that we can be alone."

"We are alone," he said, laughing again. "Sort of."

I rolled to my side and leaned over him. Shadows from the surrounding trees enclosed us. "Alone enough."

I brought my lips down and kissed him, surprising both of us. I hadn't meant to do it. We'd never kissed before. I'd held myself back from him, earning all that chastising from Bastien. I could never bring myself to take Luc's energy and shorten his life. Yet, something came over me just then. It might have been my earlier gray mood or the feelings that were eerily like love within me. Whatever it was, being a succubus didn't matter just then.

Well, it didn't until his energy started flowing into me. Our kissing grew more intense, our lips full of demand. His soul shone so brightly that even that one kiss was enough to taste his energy. It was glorious. My whole body thrilled to both it and his touch.

He wrapped his arm around my waist, and without conscious thought, I began unbuttoning his shirt. He rolled me over so that I was the one on my back now and moved his mouth down to my neck. The knee-length skirts of this time gave him easy access to run his hand up my leg, and I pressed myself closer to him, pulling at his clothes while his hungry lips moved farther and farther down. All the while, that beautiful life filled me. I was drowning in it.

When his lips reached the spot between my br**sts, something seemed to jolt him to reality. He pulled up from me, running his hand over my hair as he looked down into my eyes.

"Oh God," he said. "We can't do this. Not now." The mantra of moral men everywhere.

"We can," I said, surprised at the pleading in my own voice. It was the affection I felt for him speaking, not any agenda of Hell's. I wanted - needed - him to be closer to me.

He sighed. "Suzette, Suzette. I want to. But I want us to get married. I can't do this - can't do this to you - unless I know you'll be my wife. It isn't right otherwise."

I stared up at him, uncertainty interfering with my desire. "Are you...are you proposing to me?"

Luc thought about it for a moment and then grinned again, giving me another of those radiant smiles that never failed to make my heart race. "Yes. I guess I am. We'd have to wait a little bit - wait until I had more money. But when the war's over, things will get better."

This war's never going to be over, some gloomy part of me thought. But just now, that wasn't the real issue. His wanting to marry me was. It was impossible, of course. I could theoretically shape-shift so that I aged with him, all the while getting succubus sex on the side. Some succubi did that, having countless husbands over the centuries. Most didn't even stick around. They just disappeared. Their marital vows meant nothing.

Tags: Richelle Mead Georgina Kincaid Fantasy
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