Chapter 9"Niceglow," Bastien told me when he answered the door the following afternoon. "Yeah. Tell me about it." I traipsed into his house wearing the Tabitha body, and pulled up a stool at his kitchen counter. He handed me a Mountain Dew from the refrigerator. "Why so glum? Couldn't have been all that bad." "It was okay. In that sleazy, backroom sort of way. Seth came over afterward and couldn't stop telling me how pretty I was." "Of course he did." Bastien was sporting a glow of his own today. "How could he help it? He's a weak mortal, just like they all are." I ignored the jibe and took down half the can in one gulp. "On the topic of 'weak mortals,' how'd your football game go?"
"Ridiculously boring. Bill must have fantastic speech writers because his conversation is on the same level as that cupboard's over there. But, on the bright side, I did talk to Dana several times, and I think I repaired the damage you did.""Ye gods, will you get over this? I didn't do anything. You have no one to blame for that but yourself." "Hey, I didn't fall down the stairs. Anyway, I took your advice and played sympathetic brother. She really seemed to go for it. Except…" "Except what?" He frowned, blue eyes perplexed. "She seems to like me well enough. She asks about my job, she asks about you. But something's weird. I just don't feel like…" "Like she's going to throw herself at you any time soon? Huh. I never would have guessed." His expression hardened, doubts banished. "It's just a matter of time, that's all. Like that convent in Brussels. Remember how well that turned out?" I grinned. "Just a matter of time. Sure. So what are your plans today?" "Nothing. I'll probably go out later, but now I'm just sort of hanging around. Mitch is supposed to be at work, after all." "Well, let's sneak you out and go see a movie or something."
Frankly, I was eager to do something semi-fun. I had finally made it to my day off, and it hadn't come a moment too soon. The only thing that bothered me was not knowing what had happened at the bookstore when—or rather if— Doug came in this morning. If Warren or Paige had been around, they might have banned him for a while. But I certainly didn't have that power, and I hated to lose the coverage anyway. I'd finally resorted to calling Janice, telling her to ring my cell immediately if there were any repeat problems. I hadn't heard anything so far.Bastien allowed himself grudging interest in a movie. "Anything good playing?" The doorbell rang before we could check. "Geez,Bas.It's like Grand Central Station whenever I'm here." "Probably a Jehovah's Witness," he decided, checking out the door invisibly. "Huh. It's Jody. Wonder what she wants." I supposed Dana visiting would have been more serendipitous, but I found Jody's presence a relief. "Well, let her go. You're supposed to be at work." He nudged me. "You answer." "Me?" "Sure. Make up some reason to be here. She's chummy with Dana. You can do some reconnaissance." "Oh, for goodness—"
The doorbell rang again, and Bastien looked at me pleadingly. I had a good opinion of Jody, but I didn't like him mixing me up in his affairs. Grumbling, I went to the door. Maybe she was just dropping off more baked goods or something, I thought. Her face burst into a grin upon seeing me."I was hoping it was you! I thought I recognized the Passat." I smiled back at her. "Good memory. Did you need Mitch? He's at work." "No, not really. I just saw the car and wanted to say hi. Are you hanging out here?" "Uh, yeah. It's my day off, and I promised him I'd…do some yard work." Bastien, hovering invisibly nearby, got a kick out of that.
"It's a great day for it," she agreed. I
supposed it was, in that crisply sunny sort of way that sometimes
shows up in winter. At least we had no rain today. "What were you
going to do? It looks like the lawn service took care of most of
That it had. I tried to think of something superfluous that suburbanites wouldn't have already underpaid someone else to do. "I was going to plant some flowers."
Jody drove us to some gardening place that looked like a maze of greenery to me. Actually, greenery wasn't quite the right word. Many of the trees and plants had lost leaves, turning brown and yellow as winter deepened. A maze of vegetation, I guess."They're still alive," she told me, assessing plants with an expert eye. "Although, this isn't exactly the best time to do plantings. Still, we should be able to manage something since the ground isn't too hard yet." I grimaced. "Sounds dirty." She laughed. "How'd you get slated for this?" "My brother doesn't…always think things through. And he's pretty persuasive when he wants to be." And annoying. And pushy. "I can see that. He's pretty cute too. Bet he gets women to do anything he wants." "You have no idea." This made her smile again. "Well, hang in there. Once you get started with this kind of stuff, you get into it. And it's not that dirty. You want dirty, I'll tell you about Guatemala someday." "When were you in Guatemala?" Whoa. Somehow I managed her circle picking places like Malibu and Paris for vacations. "When I was in the Peace Corps." "You were in the Peace Corps?" "Yup. When I was younger."
I stared after her as she continued checking out the selection. Jody had been in the Peace Corps and worked as an art teacher. She was clearly talented creatively. She was smart and had a good personality. How the hell had she gotten mixed up with Dana?
We ended up buying several plants she called Christmas Roses, plus some bulbs she warned might or might not come up in the spring. Once back at Bastien's, we bundled up in coats and gloves and set to digging in his front yard. I saw him peek out the window and wave at me at one point; I stuck my tongue out at him when Jody wasn't looking.
Jody was only too happy to tell me about her past. I'd ask the occasional clarifying question, and she'd then go on for a while more. I listened, commenting occasionally, and—as much as I hated to admit it—found the afternoon passing pleasantly. She had been right: garden work wasn't so bad once you started. Inevitably, her chatter turned to the CPFV, and she both surprised and relieved me by admitting some discontent."I mean," she was saying, "I stand by them. Absolutely. It's just sometimes, I wish we were doing things in different ways. " I looked up, happy to take a break from hacking at the hard ground. "What kinds of things?"
She pursed her cute lips together. "I guess…like…we spend a lot of time telling people what to do and what not to do, you know? Like we're trying to help them lead better lives, and I think that's good. After all, Dana says an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."Ugh.Clichéanyone?
"But I also wish we were doing something for those that need help now. Do you know how many families in this area don't have enough to eat? It'd be great if we could work with local food banks to do something about that—especially with the holidays coming up. Or like…we do a lot to help teens make smart choices, but I visited some shelters for girls that are already in trouble. They've run away. They're pregnant. Dana says they're lost causes, but…""You don't think so?" I asked gently.
She had stopped digging too and stared absentmindedly at the bulb she held. "I don't think anyone's beyond help. But Dana…I mean, she's so smart. She knows more than me about this stuff. I trust what she says.""Nothing wrong with questioning."
"Yeah, I suppose. It's just, well, she's been a good friend to me." Her eyes focused on something not here, something far away and long ago. "A couple years ago, Jack and I had some, you know, problems. I mean, it happens right? No relationship's perfect.""No," I agreed grimly. "Anyway, she helped me work through that. I feel sort of…"
"Obligated?" Jody fumbled. "I-I don't know. I guess so. Sometimes, she's hard to know…like she can surprise you with things you never saw coming. Other times…" She shook her head and gave a nervous laugh. "I don't know what I'm saying. She's wonderful. The most amazing person I've ever met. She does so much good."
She changed the subject abruptly after that, and I let her. We moved on to happier topics, and I found myself laughing along with her and enjoying her company. At one point, I ran into Bastien's kitchen and made us hot chocolate. We drank it outside as we finished the last of our plants, finally sitting back and admiring our handiwork. Despite my initial misgivings, I kind of liked accomplishing something so tangible."Look," said Jody. "Dana just came home." Sure enough, Dana's Explorer pulled in next door, and a moment later, the woman herself strolled over. She graced us with one of those ice-bitch smiles. "This looks cozy." Jody's earlier bubbly nature seemed somewhat diminished. "Tabitha needed some gardening help, so I came over." "Wasn't that nice of you."
Dana gave the other woman a look I couldn't interpret, save that disapproval and possibly anger underscored it. Although I had been arguing to the contrary with Bastien, I got the feeling I might truly have pissed off Dana more than I'd suspected, creating the bad impression he kept accusing me of. It looked like Dana may even have voiced her opinions of me to Jody.
I watched Jody's face pass through a range of emotions. I felt pretty confident there was more iron in there than her surface showed, and for a half a second she looked as though she might lash out in defiance. Then, after a moment's eye contact, she looked away, backing down.Perhaps I should have simpered just then and tried to weasel into Dana's good graces, but mostly I felt angry at what I perceived as her chastisement. She had no right to do that Jody. "It was incredibly nice," I said sharply. "Jody's one of those rare, honestly good people in the world. Not just one who pretends to be. But of course you already know that." Jody blushed furiously, and the edges of Dana's smile twitched a little. "Yes. Yes, she is. How's your ankle doing?" "Good as new." "Glad to hear it."
We all waited in awkward silence. I decided I would wait out Dana this time, no matter how scary that stare. She, of course, was a master of waiting, so it wasn't a surprise when Jody was the one who cracked. Honestly, I couldn't blame her.
"Well. Jack should be home soon. I should get going." I stood up with her and helped her gather the tools. We all exchanged a few more stiff remarks, then parted ways."What happened? What happened?" exclaimed Bastien when I came back inside. "I saw Dana out there." "Nothing new. Jody's a saint; Dana's a bitch. I hope you hurry up and get this done with." "Damn it, I'm trying! I don't suppose you found out anything useful?" "Not really…although, I think Jody knows something about Dana. Something juicy enough even for you. She wouldn't tell me exactly what." The incubus clung to this piece of information like a dog with a bone. "You've got to find out what! Call her up tomorrow. Take her to lunch." "Jesus, Bastien. I like her, but I'm not doing your work for you. This is your show, remember? Besides, I do have a life, you know. " He scowled. "That's up for debate." "Why are you so worked up about this Dana thing anyway? I mean, I'd love to see her fall, but the way you're acting…I don't know. It's totally pushing you over the edge." "Why shouldn't I be worked up? Just because you don't play the soul game anymore doesn't mean the rest of us don't have an eye on our careers." I knew Bastien too well not to suspect there was some other reason we were fighting all the time. "And that's all it is, huh? Just good old-fashioned American work ethic?" "Yes," he said stiffly. "There's nothing wrong with that."
We locked matching Hunter gazes, and I tried to let him know with my eyes that I knew there was more than he was telling me. He stared stonily back, refusing to open up. At last, I shook my head, not wanting to be drawn into any more fighting."Mind if I use your hot tub?" I asked instead. He gestured toward the back patio. "Sure. Have the run of the house. Use me and go." "You're being childish." Not answering, he went off to watch TV.
I let myself out through the patio and flipped open the hot tub's lid. Hot steam poured out, and I sighed with pleasure. It felt downright decadent after being out in the cold all day. Glancing around, I took in the vine-covered privacy trellises. There were three of them with a person-sized gap between each one. Dusk was rapidly giving way to darkness, and I felt pretty obscured from the neighbors.
I stripped off my clothes and tentatively put a foot in the tub. Hot. Very hot. I yanked it out, then waited a minute before trying again. Slowly, I eased the rest of me in, bit by bit. When I was finally submerged from the neck down, I exhaled happily and leaned my head back against the edge. Fantastic. I kicked on the bubbles and closed my eyes. Suddenly, I found myself able to forget it all. Doug. The guy from the club. Dana. Seth.Well, maybe not Seth entirely. But I could forget the bad things, at least.
When my hair had curled from the steam and sweat was rolling down my forehead, I stood up and sat on the tub's edge, letting the air dry me off. A lot of people don't understand outdoor hot tubs, but I preferred them to indoor ones. Nothing can match that temperature change.Once cooled, I sat back in the water, ready to repeat the process. I could have done this all night and been perfectly happy.
I'd only been back in the water a few minutes when I heard a twig snap from somewhere nearby. It was like a bad-horror-moviecliché, butterrifying nonetheless. I shot out of the water, splashing everywhere, scrambling over the side as I heard a rustle of leaves and brush."Bastien!" I yelled, running back into the house. He tore into the room, face pale and alarmed. "What's the matter?" I backed away from the patio, pointing. "There's someone out there. " Nothing could really hurt me, of course, but being immortal does not relieve a person of instinctual fear and caution. There'd be time to feel embarrassed about girly behavior later.
His eyes cut to the patio, and he moved outdoors without any hesitation to look around. My knight. I waited in the kitchen, dripping water onto the wood floor, my heart still thumping. He returned a few minutes later and shook his head."There's nothing out there. You imagined it." "No. It was there. I heard it." "Then it was an animal." He suddenly smirked. "Or maybe Reese getting a thrill." When I didn't laugh at the joke, he approached and pulled me to him, unconcerned about getting his clothes wet. My body trembled against his. "It's all right," he murmured. "You're okay. You're safe." He pulled off his blazer and wrapped it around me. It was too big, but it felt wonderful. I huddled against him, still too fazed to shape-shift some more substantial clothing on. "Come on,Fleur.You know I'm here. You know I won't let anything happen to you."
The animosity we'd built from our fight went
away, and suddenly we were back to normal again. He took me
upstairs to his bedroom, still keeping his arm around me. I
shape-shifted dry as we walked and turned back into my Georgina
self. Changing into his usual shape as well, he pulled me down to
the bed with him so my head rested on his chest.
A lot of immortals don't understand the way incubi and succubi relate to each other. We tend to touch a lot, in ways that are small but still intimate by most standards. I'd been accused many times of being sexually involved with Bastien— or someone else—over the years. Yet the truth was that in all of our time together, he and I had never actually had anything romantic happen. We were close, physically and emotionally, but that came from friendship, nothing more.
Because honestly, when you spent most of your existence giving complete strangers access to your body, it seemed stupid not to enjoy physical bonding with those you actually cared about. And again, by physical bonding, I just meant small things, not even those that resulted in orgasm or a PG rating. Petting. Stroking. Massaging. Kissing here and there. They were all signs of closeness. We needed them, I think, to keep ourselves sane with the way we lived. And there was a certain comfort to knowing that in doing this, the other person got exactly the same thing in return. I could not have had such an equitable emotional relationship if I'd sought a similar physical exchange with, say, Hugh or the vampires. It would have meant something different to them.
Which was why I could lay there in Bastien's bed, half naked, with my body twisted around his. We laughed under the blankets, reminiscing about past times when we had to sleep in similar—but less comfortable—ways. Ship cabins. Narrow boardinghouse beds. Campsites along country roads. Then too, we'd huddled together for warmth and security.
I ended up spending the whole night with him. He held me the entire time in as gentlemanly a way as Seth might have. But with Bastien, I didn't toss and turn with worry all night over what damage one careless touch might do. It was the best night of sleep I'd had in weeks.When I returned home the next day, I called Seth and asked him if he'd been at the bookstore yesterday. He verified that he had and that Doug had behaved himself. "He was kind of goofy and chipper but nothing like that day." "Good. I hope that's the end of it." There was an awkward pause, and then Seth asked, too casually: "Were you out again last night? I called you pretty late and didn't get an answer. " "Oh, yeah. I stayed at Bastien's all night." "Oh." Silence. "It's not what you think," I hastily assured him. "We just slept. Perfectly platonic. Just like…" "You and me?" Silence. "Nothing happened. He's like a brother to me. Honest. He's the last person you should be jealous of."
"I'm not jealous. Not exactly. But if you say
it's nothing, then it's nothing. I didn't mean to sound like I was
accusing you of lying. I know you wouldn't do that."
I thought about oral sex at the dance club and my bare skin pressed against Bastien's. I might not lie, but I didn't always tell Seth the whole truth either.
A few days later, Seth and I went to another Nocturnal Admission concert. Doug and I had worked together all week in a civil manner, if not exactly a friendly one. Seth picked me up at my place and again could only stare in wonder at my appearance. I'd gone out hunting with Bastien last night— against my better judgment—and had taken another victim. The glamour hadn't quite diminished yet, and I would have looked hot even in a burlap bag. So, I suppose wearing the kind of dress I did was just outright mean. It was a little slip of a dress in gray cotton jersey, with a ribbon threaded around it that tied just under my breasts. The thin-strapped, V-necked top showed lots of cleavage; the skirt hung soft and drapey to just above my knee. It was like a winter sundress.Seth put his arms around me and nuzzled my neck. "You never fail to surprise me. I always think I know what to expect with you. Then I actually see you, and…" He couldn't finish, but his eyes did it for him. They slid up and down my body, making my insides melt. Throw me on the bed and take me, I begged silently. Out loud I said, "We should get going."
At the concert, Nocturnal Admission performed as spectacularly as last time. Their following had increased, and people packed every square inch of the place. I had trouble seeing the stage but could hear every golden note.
Fortunately, I got to see plenty of Doug later. The venue had let him use the place for another wild, post-concert party. Adoring women—and several men—clung flirtatiously to him and the other band members. Doug hugged me when he saw me, arranged for someone to make me a decent drink, and acted as though nothing had happened between us. I guessed I was glad to set aside the hard feelings, but now that I knew what to blame his behavior on, his bright and wild demeanor unnerved me.
Casey showed up at one point, still looking a bit gaunt, but obviously on the mend. From across the room, I watched her tentatively approach Alec. He'd been talking to Wyatt the guitar player and turned to give her an obviously forced and fake smile. I couldn't hear the conversation, but the message came through loud and clear. She wanted to talk to him, to get his attention in some way, and he was blatantly snubbing her. I could see him shaking his head as she spoke, an almost desperate look on her face. Finally, he simply walked away, leaving her staring and upset."I want to go over there and punch him," I told Seth. "No, you don't. It's their business, not yours." I turned on him. "Damn it, Seth! How can you always be so placid and nonconfrontational? Don't you stand up for anything?" He regarded me coolly. If he was surprised or offended by my outburst, he didn't show it. "I stand up for plenty of things. I just know when to pick my battles, that's all. So should you." "You realize he slept with her and then turned around and dropped her cold. He may have even used sinister ways to do it."
"Believe me, I'm not condoning that, but
Casey's got to be the one to say something. Otherwise, it's just
you making accusations and starting a scene."
I scowled, half agreeing with him but still wishing I could help. Looking around, I couldn't see her anymore, which was probably just as well. With any luck, she'd gone home and would swear off the company of men for a while. Seth left for the bathroom, and almost the moment he was gone, Alec sidled up.
Whether that was actually true or not, I knew the life-force surplus made me the most attractive. There was a difference. Eyeing Alec, I suddenly toyed with the idea of returning his flirtation and sleeping with him. I rather liked the idea of seeing him sprawled out unconscious and sick somewhere. Nah. On second thought, considering he was such a sleazebag, I probably wouldn't steal enough energy to do much more than wind him."You drinking those vodka gambits again?" he asked, still pushing the act. "Gimlets," I corrected. "Well, the bar can make anything if you want something different. And there's weed everywhere. I think I saw Corey with acid too." This guy just couldn't stop trying to fuck women over. He didn't care how he did it. Seth showed up just then, and I turned to him with a dazzling smile. "Nice talking to you Alec," I said breezily, taking Seth's arm. "See you around." "What was that about?" asked Seth, once we were out of earshot. "That asshole was trying to pick me up again. Right after turning away Casey. God, I hate him. He was trying the usual stuff too. Trying to push more drinks on me. Telling me how hot I was." Seth leaned his face toward mine. "You are hot." "Stop that. You're giving me funny ideas." He continued holding me close. I really needed to wait two days before seeing him after a fix. "Ever wonder how far I could kiss you on the lips?" he asked. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I can somewhat substantially kiss your cheek and neck, right? Your lips though…well, those have to be quick, brushing kind of kisses. Too much intensity and tongue with your mouth is right out. So, I figure there must be a middle ground.""Have you been drinking?" "Just thinking, that's all."
The rapture from my glow was reflected in his face. Forgetting about anyone we knew seeing us, I let him lean his mouth toward my own. Ever so gently, his lips touched mine. Not a family-type slip of a kiss, nor a saliva-exchanging deep kiss either. It was like a caress. His lips slowly stroked my lips, his tongue just barely tracing the contours of my mouth. Electricity ran from my head to my toes and tried to run back up again, but it got delayed between my legs. Seth stepped away."Anything bad happen?" "No," I breathed. "But I think we need to conduct several repeat experiments, just to make sure."
Suddenly, from across the room, we heard whoops and cheers, followed by a terrific crashing sound and gasps of alarm. Without conscious communication, Seth and I moved as one to see what had happened.Doug lay in a heap on the floor in front of the stage, laughing hysterically. "What's going on?" I asked Corey. His eyes were heavily dilated, and I remembered Alec saying the bass player had acid. "It's a new Olympic sport. Stage-table High Jumps." Following his gaze, I saw a table set up on the stage. About fifteen feet away, on the floor by Doug, was an overturned table. I looked back and forth. "Did he try to jump from that table to that one?" Corey cackled. "Sure did. Shit. He almost made it. Caught the edge on his way down." "He could have broken his leg," muttered Seth in disgust. "Or worse." Doug seemed to be okay. Some solicitous women in tight shirts were helping him stand. He caught my eye and laughed harder. "Don't look so panicked, Kincaid. I'm fine…but if you want to make sure, you can come kiss me too and make it all better." He winked at Seth, and others laughed with him, without knowing why. I was soon forgotten as more adoring people swarmed in. Seth and I retreated. "What was he thinking?" I fretted. "I mean, he's always doing crazy acrobatic stuff on stage, but he had to have known he couldn't make that." "If he's not thinking straight, there's no telling what he believes. Drugs’ll do that. Give you a sense of invincibility." I reminded myself to look up those drug names Cody had suggested. I didn't know if it'd do any good, but it'd at least make me think I was doing something. "Hey," I exclaimed, pulling Seth to an abrupt stop. "It's him again." "Who?" "That guy talking to Alec. The weird gothic, male-model-type guy."
Seth followed my gesture. Way on the other side of the place, near the bar, Alec and the man I'd seen at the earlier concert were having a heated argument. The GQ-poet guy looked stern and cold tonight, dampening his otherwise suave and polished looks. Alec had a pleading look. The drummer gesticulated frantically, his face desperate and frightened. The other man shook his head sternly, face unyielding. He waved a hand toward the crowd and then said something to Alec. Alec's face paled, and he once more turned into a pitiful supplicant. The other man shook his head yet again, then strode off.
He didn't approach us exactly, but he had to move in our direction to reach the exit. He was still a good fifty feet away and separated by walls of people when an odd, prickly feeling touched my skin. It was strange and discordant, yet sleek at the same time. It was almost like what I'd felt around Doug and the band, except that had been unidentifiable. This was clearly a person's signature. It was linked to that man, pulsing with sentience. I choked out a strangled sound and quickly stepped back out of range. Pulling Seth with me, I threw my arms around him and kissed his neck.
As I did, I watched out of the corner of my eye as the strange man froze and jerked his head around, looking out over the crowd. He had felt me too. His eyes passed over us several times, but we drew no especial focus. We were just another couple getting hot and heavy. I tensed, waiting for him to come closer and try to sense me again. Without knowing why, I didn't want him to find me. He scanned a bit longer before giving up and continuing his retreat.When he had left, I relaxed and leaned into Seth. "What…?" "That man that was talking to Alec," I said, still in shock. "He's an immortal." Seth's eyebrows rose. "Really? What kind? Angel? Demon?" "None of the above. He's not one of mine." "What do you mean not one of yours?" "Not all immortals are part of the heaven and hell system. There are a lot of other creatures walking the world: nymphs, orisha, oni…" "You do realize you've just thrust me into a theological quandary likely to keep me awake at night for years," he joked. When I didn't answer, he turned serious. "Okay. So what kind was he?" I shook my head. "That's the thing. I don't know. I don't know what he was exactly."