Thursday, July 18, 2019

Succubus Heat CHAPTER 8

Grace called me that night while I was on my way to talk to Isabelle. â€Å"Hello, Georgina. This is Grace.† I waited patiently for Mei's complementary greeting. When it didn't come, I asked in surprise, â€Å"It's just you? Not Mei?† Grace's voice, while as flat as usual, held the tiniest puzzled note in it. â€Å"Why would Mei be here?† It apparently hadn't occurred to her that I had never received a call or a visit from either of them alone. They always functioned as a unit, kind of giving the impression that the fabric of the universe might rip open if they were ever apart. This was as weird as them nearly accepting coffee the other day. â€Å"Never mind. What's up?† â€Å"Jerome wanted me to tell you that he is†¦pleased.† â€Å"Over what?† â€Å"Over you successfully embarrassing Cedric.† â€Å"But I didn't-† I bit my lip, suddenly wondering if I should be so quick to deny my involvement. Jerome hadn't been happy with me recently. While the stupid spectacle at Queen Elizabeth Park had put me on Cedric's shit list, it might very well take me off Jerome's and hasten my permanent return to Seattle. I stayed silent. â€Å"He's glad you took his talk to heart,† Grace continued. â€Å"Although, he does wish to remind you that you being sent to Cedric is supposed to be a gesture of good will. So try not to be too efficient. Jerome encourages you to keep up with these small jabs but to remember that you do ultimately want this group undone.† I sighed. â€Å"Noted.† Grace disconnected. Great. This was all I needed. Jerome thought I was guilty too-of trying to score extra credit with him. Cedric had told me I could find Isabelle at a jazz club a few miles from my hotel. It was over on a street lined with clubs and bars, and the excitement and energy in the air as I walked toward Isabelle's hangout was palpable. It was Saturday night, after all, and the streets teemed with humans eager and excited for life and love. I couldn't see their souls or energy the way an imp like Hugh could, but I didn't need to. It was apparent in the way they moved and talked and eyed each other for potential hook-ups. Even after my recent tryst, being in this electric atmosphere made me itch for another conquest. I'd have to cruise these clubs once I'd concluded business with Isabelle. The jazz club was small and dark, exactly the way you expected such places to be. All the tables were filled, and lots of people stood by the bar or along the wall. I didn't have any trouble finding Isabelle, though. The signature of a greater immortal filled up a place like this. Hers made me think of sunlight shining through crystals, fracturing into sparkles of color. She sat alone at a corner table. Most obviously single women in there were being hit on-in fact, I got a number of appraising looks as I walked through-but no one other than the wait staff seemed to notice Isabelle. It reminded me of how no one ever noticed Jerome's resemblance to John Cusack. Isabelle wore a long blue dress with spaghetti straps, surprisingly risqu? ¦ for an angel. Her hair was sunny blond and worn loose to her lower back-not unlike a golden cloak, I thought wryly. She sensed me, of course, and didn't seem surprised at all when I sat down across from her. With a smile, she glanced up and crooked a finger toward the nearest waiter. He hurried over and took my gimlet order. Once he was gone, Isabelle turned her attention on me. â€Å"So. Jerome's succubus.† Cedric had called me the same thing when we first met. I kind of resented my identity being based on my association with-or rather, possession by-someone else. â€Å"Yeah,† I said. She watched me pleasantly, neither cold nor friendly. With angels, you never knew which extreme you might get. Mostly, she looked curious, so I figured I could get right down to business. â€Å"So I-â€Å" â€Å"Shh.† â€Å"Wh-â€Å" She held up her hand, dark eyes focusing on something beyond me. The band was in the middle of a song, and the trumpet player had just put the instrument to his lips. A long, high note came out, kicking off what turned into a mournful solo. When he finished a minute or so later, I turned back to Isabelle and saw the waiter had brought my gimlet. The angel's face was alight with wonder-and wistfulness. â€Å"Did you hear that?† she asked me. â€Å"Those notes weren't complicated, yet he managed to put so much into them. His heart, his emotions, his soul. A world of sorrow, exquisite agony†¦all in those few notes.† She took a sip of her wine. â€Å"You can't do that. Not even I can do that-not the way he did.† Her words surprised me, but I knew exactly what she meant. Part of the reason I was always a little in awe of Seth's books was because he, as a mortal, had a talent that an immortal like me never could possess. â€Å"Only humans have the gift of creation,† I murmured. Her eyebrows rose slightly, and she smiled. â€Å"Yes, exactly. So tell me, what can I do for you, Jerome's succubus?† I felt a little weird interrogating her now. There was something a little sad and vulnerable about her that made her appealing. Nonetheless, I pushed forward. Angels and demons came from the same stock. Both were good at making you believe what they wanted. â€Å"You†¦you know about those so-called Satanists, right? The Army of Darkness?† Isabelle's smile twitched. â€Å"Great movie, silly cult. Did you have anything to do with their display today? I really liked the goat mask.† I shook my head. â€Å"Actually, I was wondering if you had anything to do with it.† â€Å"Me?† She laughed. â€Å"I only wish I could think up things that good-but there we are again: humans and creation. Why do you ask?† â€Å"Because they say they're being directed by an angel.† I gave her an abridged version of what the group had told me. â€Å"And you assume they literally meant an angel?† â€Å"I'm trying not to assume anything. But I think someone or something is directing them, and your side has as good a reason as any to stir up trouble for Cedric and make the authorities on all sides come down on him.† â€Å"And your side has just as good a reason. Demons try to oust each other all the time.† I tapped my nails along my glass's edge and eyed her warily. â€Å"And you haven't actually answered my question,† I pointed out. â€Å"You haven't directly denied being involved.† Angels couldn't technically lie, but oh, they were masters at not always telling the truth. Isabelle finished off her wine and smiled at me again. â€Å"Oh, you are delightful. This is just like being on a TV cop show. No wonder Carter likes you so much.† I sighed in exasperation, realizing I was going to get nowhere. Fucking angels. Her grin dimmed a little, but she was still clearly amused. â€Å"Look, Georgina,† she said. She knew my name; no real surprise. â€Å"I like you. You're clever and endearing, but here's how it is: I don't want to see Cedric leave Vancouver. I like him. And anyway, that saying about keeping your enemies close is true. I know him, I understand him. And when you're playing a game like ours, the better you know the pieces on the board, the better you'll do. I don't want to have to live with an archdemon I don't know, one who's a lot more unpleasant than he is.† A new glass of wine had been delivered, and she paused to take a sip. â€Å"And that's the truth.† I didn't know what to say. I wanted to believe her but had no idea if I could. I simply sighed again. â€Å"What are you thinking?† she asked. â€Å"I wish I could believe you when you say you aren't involved. Even with the whole not-lying thing, I don't know that I can. I don't think that I can trust anyone.† â€Å"That,† she said firmly, â€Å"is absolutely something I agree with: you can't trust anyone. On any side. Everyone's got their own agenda, and there's something in the air right now-it's like a building storm, to use a clich? ¦. Be careful.† Her face looked momentarily troubled, and then she relaxed again as her attention returned to the stage. â€Å"Ah, the soloist is back.† I slid my empty glass to the center of the table. I started to take out some cash too, but she waved it away. â€Å"Thanks for talking,† I told her, rising from my chair. Suddenly, I hesitated. â€Å"You mentioned Carter. I don't suppose†¦I don't suppose you know where he's been lately?† I'd never thought I would utter those words. Carter had tormented me for years with his unsolicited, cryptic advice. He'd particularly loved to comment about Seth and me, as though he had some special interest in our relationship. Since it had ended, I'd hardly seen Carter at all. He used to come hang out with my friends and me but had only surfaced a couple of times in the last few months. Isabelle smiled. â€Å"He's closer than you think.† â€Å"Typical angel answer,† I groaned. I turned around to leave and then yelped. Carter stood by the club's entrance. Abandoning Isabelle, I hurried across the crowded room. Oblivious to the dress code, Carter wore his typical grungy clothing, ratty jeans and a plain gray T-shirt. A flannel shirt was tied around his waist, and his blond hair could have handled a good washing and brushing. He smiled expectantly at my approach and stepped outside to the crowded street. I followed. â€Å"What are you doing here?† I asked, taking out my cigarettes. I grabbed one for myself and then offered him the pack. He took one too. â€Å"What are you doing here?† he returned pleasantly. â€Å"You know what I'm doing here. Everyone knows what I'm doing here.† I fumbled in my purse for my new lighter and found a matchbook instead. I pulled it out. Mark's Mad Martini Bar. I'd forgotten them. â€Å"What's wrong?† asked Carter, noting my frown. I shook my head. â€Å"Nothing.† I traded the matches for my lighter, and we lit up. â€Å"You were lurking with your signature hidden,† I continued. â€Å"Why?† â€Å"Element of surprise,† he said. â€Å"It was worth it to see your face.† We walked past the club lines and drunken groups, no clear destination in mind-at least none that I knew of. â€Å"You haven't been around in a while,† I accused. â€Å"Why, Daughter of Lilith, have you missed me?† â€Å"No! But I was starting to feel like you were only interested in me while I was dating Seth.† â€Å"Of course not.† There was a long, overly nonchalant pause. â€Å"So†¦have you talked to him lately?† I rolled my eyes. â€Å"You are only interested in Seth! You're going to have to let it go, Carter. Seth and I are finished. Why can't you obsess on me and my new boyfriend instead?† â€Å"Because you can do better.† â€Å"Everyone keeps saying that. But I'm a succubus. How much better can I do?† â€Å"The fact that people keep telling you that should be answer enough.† â€Å"Seth broke up with me ,† I said through gritted teeth. â€Å"He doesn't want me anymore, end of story.† â€Å"Oh, come now. Do you really believe that?† â€Å"Seeing as I was there at the break-up? Yes.† Carter tsked. â€Å"Georgina, Georgina. You're letting your anger and other emotions cloud your reason, which is unfortunate since you're a lot smarter than people give you credit for. Go back and think. Why did Seth break up with you?† I stared off at the far side of the street, refusing to look at him. â€Å"Because he thought if we stayed together, we'd both get hurt. That it would be better if we split, no matter how painful at the time.† â€Å"And you think that makes him a bad person?† â€Å"Yes.† I turned back toward Carter. â€Å"Because I didn't agree. I was willing to take the risk. He gave up.† â€Å"Sometimes it takes more courage to know when to retreat than to keep fighting.† â€Å"I don't think it could have taken that much courage. He ended up with Maddie pretty quickly.† No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep the bitterness from my voice. â€Å"That takes courage too, forcing yourself to start over with someone new, to keep moving on with your life.† â€Å"Seems more like a rebound to me.† Carter took a long drag on his cigarette. â€Å"Seth didn't leave and go to Maddie because he stopped loving you. If there were no complications in the world, you would be the one he chose. You are his ideal, his first choice.† â€Å"That's not flattering to Maddie.† â€Å"It doesn't make her less. It just means he loves her differently. And when you decide you have to move on, that's how it is. Just because things don't work out, it doesn't mean there aren't other people you can't love. Love is too big a thing for you to go without it in life.† â€Å"Oh yes,† I said. â€Å"I have so missed these cryptic conversations.† Carter crooked me a grin. â€Å"I'm glad to see you're back to your old self.† â€Å"I've missed the sarcasm too.† â€Å"No, I'm serious. You weren't a lot of fun these last few months. You were kind of†¦Ã¢â‚¬  â€Å"†¦bitchy?† He shrugged. â€Å"I don't know. You were angry and depressed and frustrated. You stopped caring about the people around you. You weren't†¦well, you.† â€Å"You don't know me or what I am.† â€Å"I know you better than you think. I know you're still hurting and think the universe has given up on you. It hasn't. I also know that as far as all this demon business is concerned, your curiosity is going to tangle you up further in something you shouldn't be involved with in the first place. Jerome,† he declared, â€Å"is a fool.† â€Å"Do you know what's going on?† I asked eagerly, coming to a stop. â€Å"Who's leading that cult? Who's supposedly running this huge game that's going on that I can't see?† â€Å"No,† said Carter, expression dark. â€Å"I don't know any of that. But if I were you, I'd get back to Seattle soon. Stay close to Jerome.† â€Å"He hates me right now.† â€Å"No, he doesn't. Stay close to him. He'll protect you. If he can't†¦well, I will. If I can.† There was nothing romantic in his offer of protection. It wasn't spoken with chivalrous fierceness. His manner was uneasy, like he was dealing with a last resort. I also couldn't help but replay his last words: if I can . Angels-or demons-didn't use the word â€Å"if† very often. â€Å"What do you mean if-â€Å" â€Å"Go back home, Daughter of Lilith.† He tipped his head back to stare at the night sky, blew smoke into the air, and then looked down at me with his silvery gray eyes. â€Å"We'll talk soon.† He dropped the cigarette to the sidewalk and vanished. I glanced around, worried someone had seen us, but we'd walked far from the partiers. I stamped out the cigarette, turned, and headed back in the direction of all the nightlife to go find some guys I'd noticed checking me out. A night with drunken men might still leave me feeling hollow, but at least their motives were easier to understand than angels'.

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