"No. An imp I know looked it over recently and verified it."
"Oh?" This caught Erik's interest. "Why would he do that?"
"She. As a favor. The imp who'd brokered my sale was the one who worked with Nyx and kept messing with Seth. Hugh said when an imp shows that much interest, there's something wrong with a contract. So Kristin - this other imp - looked at my contract." She hadn't been very happy about doing that. If she'd been caught snooping in Hell's records, there would have been some very, very bad consequences. Her gratitude over me hooking her up with her boss had overpowered her fear. "She told me it was airtight. Everything was like it was supposed to be. No errors."
More silence. This conversation was starting to make me uneasy. "Did this imp - Niphon? - end up doing anything to Mr. Mortensen?"
"Not so much...I mean, it was part of what led us to breaking up...." I paused to collect myself. "But there were a lot of other factors that caused that too."
"Has Niphon been back?"
"No, but there has been this succubus." With everything else, I'd forgotten about Simone. "She was impersonating me. Kept trying to seduce Seth...but it didn't work. I think Jerome sent her packing, but I'm not sure."
Again, Erik took a long time in responding. Finally, he sighed. "Thank you, Miss Kincaid. You've given me much to think about. I apologize if I've brought up painful memories. And I'm very happy you're feeling better."
"Thanks," I said. "And thanks again for your help."
We disconnected, and I wandered out to the living room. Roman was in the kitchen, plating up some grilled cheese sandwiches. "Hungry?" he asked.
"Starving," I said. He handed me a plate, along with a cup of coffee, and I smiled. "Thanks. Not sure what I did to deserve this."
"You don't have to do anything. Besides, I had extra. Wanted a big meal before going to work."
"Before - what?"
The grin he gave me indicated he'd been dying to deliver this news. "I got a job."
"You did not."
"I did. Went back to the school I used to teach at. They had a couple openings, so I'm doing a few classes."
I was dumbfounded. After all my badgering, Roman had sought gainful employment - in his specialty, no less: linguistics.
"Does this mean you're going to pay rent now?"
"Let's not get carried away, love."
He grabbed a plate of his own, and we ate in the living room while the cats watched hopefully for leftovers. Seeing Godiva, I felt a frown coming on. The dream. The man in the dream. The Oneroi had said it was Seth...but that was impossible. I lifted my eyes up to Roman, wondering if I could rekindle the love I'd once had. If there was any man in any dream, he would be a better candidate.
"You talked to Erik for a while," Roman said, noting my scrutiny.
"He's weirded out by my rescue. He says it shouldn't have worked."
"Yeah, I heard that too."
Between bites, I recounted the conversation, including Erik's interest in Seth and my contract. "I don't see what the big deal is," I concluded. "Seth and I still have feelings for each other - feelings we're trying to get past." In that moment when our souls had met, though, separating from him had been the last thing I wanted. "Maybe that was enough. Maybe people don't have faith in the power of love."
"Maybe," said Roman. But he looked thoughtful now too.
A knock at the door interrupted further conversation. I felt no immortal signature and hoped it wasn't my neighbor trolling for more sex. He'd mercifully left me alone so far.
But no, it wasn't Gavin. It was Maddie.
And she was crying.
I asked no questions. When friends are in trouble, you take care of them first. I pulled her right inside and led her to the couch, immediately putting my arms around her. "What's wrong?" I asked finally. "What happened?"
She couldn't speak right away. Her sobs were too great, and she was choking on her own tears. Something nudged my arm. It was Roman handing me a box of tissues. I shot him a grateful look and gave some to Maddie.
At long last, she gasped out, "It's Seth."
My heart stopped. For a moment, a hundred awful scenarios flew through my mind. Seth hit by a car. Seth struck by some deadly disease. I clutched her arm, so tightly that I realized my nails were digging into her. I relaxed my grip as best I could.
"What happened?" I demanded. "Is he okay?"
"He ended it." Her crying renewed. "He broke the engagement and told me it was over." She buried her face against my shoulder, and I stroked her absentmindedly as my brain tried hard to really comprehend her words. I must have misheard.
"He couldn't have," I said, my voice as cracked as hers. "He...he loves you."
She lifted her head and looked at me with mournful, glittering eyes. "He said he didn't love me the way he should - that he didn't love me the way I deserved. He said it'd be wrong to make me marry him, that we weren't meant to spend our lives together." She took a tissue and wiped her nose, then her eyes grew wide with desperation. "What does that mean, Georgina? Why would he say he's making me marry him? I want to. I don't understand."
I looked over her and met Roman's eyes. We couldn't speak the way greater immortals could, but enough messages passed between us. Seth hadn't forced her to get engaged, no, but he'd done it out of guilt, guilt for cheating on her and continually being drawn to me when he believed it was better for us to stay apart.
"He said he loved me," Maddie continued. "But that I needed someone who loved me more - someone I was the world to. He said he'd only hurt me worse if we went on. How could it hurt worse?" The tears grew worse. She pulled away and buried her face in her hands. "It can't hurt worse than this. I want to die."
"No!" I said, drawing her back to me. "Don't say that. Don't ever say that!"
"Georgina," warned Roman softly. I realized I was shaking Maddie and immediately stopped.
"Listen to me," I said, turning her face toward mine. "You are an amazing person. You are one of the best people I know. You'll get over this...I swear it. I won't let you go through it alone, okay? And you deserve the best. If it's not him, then you'll get someone better." The next words were hard for me. I should have rejoiced at this news. I wouldn't have to watch them together. I also had a feeling that I was somehow involved in this. What had she said? That Seth said she deserved to be someone's world? He'd told me I was his. In one of the dreams, he'd said that to her, but I now knew that was a lie. Still, I couldn't help it when I said, "And maybe...maybe if you guys talk more, you'll understand..."
The sobs abated - just a little - as she gave me a puzzled look. "That's the thing. I can't."
"It may seem that way, but he's not totally unreasonable." Why the hell was I playing devil's advocate here? Because Maddie was my friend, and I couldn't stand to see her hurting - and because I had also had my heart broken too many times. "Wait a couple days, then find him and see if you can have a, I don't know, productive dialogue. Maybe you can fix things." Ugh. "Maybe you'll at least understand...understand his decision."
She shook her head. "But I can't find him. No one can. Georgina, he's disappeared."
Maddie claimed that even Seth's family didn't know where he was. According to her, he'd really just...vanished. He wasn't answering his phone. He wasn't showing up at the bookstore. When people disappeared, I immediately jumped to supernatural conclusions, but Maddie then added - through more tears - that she used her key to get her belongings from Seth's place and found a suitcase and some clothing missing. Feeling guilty about having the key anymore, she then shoved it into my hand and told me to return it. Or throw it away.
I did my best to comfort her some more and then offered to take her over to Doug's. Roman shot me a warning look as we were about to leave.
"Don't do anything stupid," he said out of Maddie's hearing.
"I knew your nice bedside manner wouldn't last," I returned.
Despite Doug's slacker rocker-boy lifestyle, I knew Maddie'd be in good hands with him. I dropped her off there and found Doug a mixture of personas. To Maddie, he was astonishingly kind and gentle - the caring brother as opposed to the usual teasing brother. Once she was lying down in the other room, he made sure I knew exactly what he thought of Seth in very explicit detail. There wasn't much I could say to that except that they should call me if they needed anything. I left.