Chapter 10Jerome didn't seem very happy to hear from me the next morning. "Do you have any idea what time it is,Georgie?"he growled into the phone. "Why are you whining? You don't even need to sleep." "Make this fast." I told him about my experience at the concert and my inability to ID the mystery immortal. "He wasn't one of us. Er, I mean, you know…not part of our…pantheon," I finished lamely. "'Pantheon?' I've never heard it put quite like that—outside of an introductory mythology class, of course." "So?" "So what?" "So isn't that weird? I've met hundreds of different immortals and never felt one like this. He didn't feel…normal. I mean, he did feel like an immortal, but it was just weird." "Well, hard as it is to believe, there are still a lot of things out there you haven't experienced—despite your vast age. " "Yeah, yeah, I know I'm an infant, all right? But doesn't this worry you at all?"
He yawned. "Not in the least. Something angelic ordemonic would, but some random demigod or satyr? Hardly. They're not part of the game. Well, they're all part of the Game. What I mean is, they're not part of our game. They don't have to get permission to be here. As long as they don't interfere with our business, I don't really care. They do their own thing. We'll just catalog them and move on.""Catalog? You've got a record then?" "Well, I don't, of course. That's one of Grace and Mei's things." No surprise there. Jerome wasn't really big on…well, work. Grace and Mei were subordinate demonesses who did a lot of the dirty jobs he didn't want to. I hardly ever saw them. "I'll have to page them," I murmured, mind spinning.
"You know, I suppose it goes without saying that there are a hundred other more useful projects you could be channeling your energy into. Like, say, helping your incubus friend. From what I hear, he's stuck high and dry out in the suburbs. Emphasis on the high.""Hey," I said, defensive of Bastien's honor, "he's just taking his time. You can't rush quality work. Besides, he learned everything he knows from me. "
"Somehow that doesn't reassure me." Jerome disconnected. I hunted down Grace and Mei's number. I waited for the tone, punched in my call-back number, and hung up. A minute later, a Fourth of July worthy shower of sparks appeared in my living room and the two demonesses stood before me.
For having chosen two very different bodies, the pair looked remarkably alike. Grace was slim in an all-business, non-nubile sort of way, enhanced by the designer black skirt and jacket she wore. She had pale blond hair cut bluntly at chin length, brown-black eyes, and skin that never saw the sun. The only true color on her was the fire engine red lipstick she wore.
Mei dressed exactly the same, down to the red lipstick. Her hair, also chin-length, was a deep blue-black. Despite the softer lines, higher cheekbones, and delicate almond shape of her dark eyes, she radiated no more warmth or friendliness than her counterpart.
The two always stuck together, and I assumed they must be friends. Sort of. I had no doubt they'd claw each other's eyes out—or Jerome's, for that matter—if an opportunity for power or promotion was on the line."Georgina," said Mei. "Long time no see," said Grace. Both watched me expectantly. Aubrey watched them from the back of my couch, her hair on end and tail poofed out. "Hey guys," I replied uneasily. "Thanks for coming over so fast. Slow day?" They both stared at me. "Um, so, okay. Jerome said you keep records of immortals who pass in and out of the city. Immortals who are outside of our…" "Game?" suggested Grace. "Pantheon?" suggested Mei. "Yeah. Sure. So…do you?" "Who are you looking for?" asked Mei. "What kind of immortal?" asked Grace. "That's the problem."
I told them everything I knew about him, which mostly included appearance and other encounters when I'd felt that weird sensation. Describing his signature was harder. I couldn't exactly say he felt like an incubus or an angel or a nymph or an oni. I hadn't run across his type before.The demonesses processed this information, glanced at each other, and then shook their heads. "He doesn't sound familiar," said Grace. "But we can double-check the records," said Mei. "Thanks," I told them. "I'd really appreciate it." They nodded curtly and turned as if to leave. Mei suddenly glanced back at me. "You should hang out with us sometime," she said unexpectedly. "Cleo's in Capitol Hill has great specials on Ladies Night." "There are so few of us girls around here," added Grace. "We need to stick together." They smiled and disappeared. I shivered. Going to a bar with those two sounded only marginally more appealing than stamping with Dana's CPFV friends. Speaking of which, I decided to visit Bastien later that afternoon. I hadn't heard from him in a few days.
"Do you have any idea how much I don't care about your mortal friends?" he snapped when I told him about the whole bizarre situation surrounding Doug, Alec, and the mystery man. "I have real problems here. I'm dying. I'm getting nowhere with Dana. I keep seeing her, she's nice, and that's it! It's like she only wants—""To be friends?"
He stopped pacing around his kitchen and cut me an arch look. "Women are never just friends with me." He leaned against the counter and closed his eyes. "I just can't think what else to do. If I don't act fast, one of our superiors is going to find out how bad things are."I decided not to mention Jerome's "high and dry" comment just then. "Well, jeez, take a break and do something fun. Peter's having another poker game. Come over and play with us. I'm going to bring Seth." "I thought you said this was going to be fun." "Hey! Who was that a dig at? Peter or Seth?" "Pick one,Fleur.Although, admittedly, Peter does make a pretty decentsoufflé.What can the author do?" "I wish you'd stop picking on Seth. You don't even know him." Bastien shrugged. "Sorry. You just make it so easy." "You're jealous."
"Hardly," he snorted. "I've had my share of mortal infatuations, thank you. So have you, if memory serves. And you've also had a number of immortal boyfriends you seemed to have liked reasonably well. None of them ever gave you as much grief as this guy.""Seth's different. I can't explain it. Being with him just feels so…right. I feel like I've known him forever. " "Fleur, I'veknown you forever. You've only known this guy for a couple months." We had gotten involved pretty quickly, and it did bug me sometimes, but I truly believed in the strength and depth of my feelings for Seth. They were neither superficial nor transient—I hoped. He had once told me there was no one else in the world for him but me. When I'd pointed out that was a bold statement in light of how long we'd known each other, he'd simply said, "Sometimes you just know."
It was remarkably similar to what my husband, Kyriakos, had told me when we'd first met, back in my long-ago, dust-covered days as a mortal. I'd been fifteen at the time, and my father had sent me down to the docks of our town with a message for Kyriakos’ father. Sending me alone was a bit unorthodox, but my father hadn't thought much about it since he was only a short distance away at the market. Nonetheless, I found it a frightening walk.
Sweaty, dirty men worked ceaselessly, unloading and loading in the hot sun while the turquoise Mediterranean shimmered beyond them. I got directions from a short, bald man who leered up at me when he finished."You're a tall girl," he observed. "Bet that might bother some men, but not me. You're just the right height as far as I'm concerned."
He laughed, and some of his companions laughed too. The man's face came up right to the height of my chest. I hurried past them with lowered eyes, honing in on the indicated ship. Relief flooded me when I found Kyriakos checking lines and talking to some of the workers. I'd never spoken to him, but I knew who his father was and knew he was trustworthy. He looked up at my approach and smiled."You're Marthanes’ daughter, right? Letha?" I nodded. "I'm supposed to tell your father that the shipment can be ready this evening if he wants it early." "I'll let him know. He's not here."
"All right." We stood there awkwardly for a moment. I could sense him studying me out of the corner of his eye while pretending to study the workers. He looked like he wanted to say something, but when nothing came, I made motions to go. "Well, thanks. I should get back.""Wait, Letha." He reached out a hand to stop me from turning, then shyly pulled back before actually touching me. "You…didn't walk here by yourself, did you?" "My father said it wasn't that far. And that I wasn't in much danger of attracting interest. " Kyriakos made a harsh sound in his throat. "Your father's a fool. Let me walk you back." He hesitated. "But don't tell your father I called him a fool."
He exchanged a few curt words with one of his men and then set out back to town with me. He was older than me, his face tanned from sun and sea. His hair was black and messy, about chin-length, and he stood almost—but not quite—as tall as I did."I saw you at that wedding a few days ago," he said after a long stretch of silence. "You were dancing with some other girls. You know…you're really good." The compliment surprised me. "I think the wine helped."
"No. The wine helped the other girls—or hindered, maybe. I'm not sure." He glanced over at me, and I nearly stumbled at the intensity in his dark eyes. "But you…dancing lives inside of you. The music spoke to you, and you understood it.""You were playing a flute," I recalled, trying not to blush at the regard in his voice.
"Yes." He sounded happy that I remembered. Silence fell again. We were almost to the market; the sounds of people and commerce drifted down to us. Kyriakos clearly wanted us to keep talking. "So…I heard your sister got married last spring.""Yes." "What about you?" I eyed him. "I didn't get married last spring." A smile turned up the edges of his lips. "What about next spring?" "Are you offering?" "Just checking. I heard my father say…" I stopped walking near the edge of the market, so I could look him in the eye again. People and animals moved around us, and across a walkway I could see my father talking to a fruit vendor.
"Look," I said brusquely, "I heard my father say it too— how they're thinking about making a marriage between our families. It'd create good trade deals. But if you're trolling for that, you should talk to your father about one of my sisters, not me.""What? Don't you want to get married?" His smile faltered. "Or is someone else lined up for you?" I stared incredulously. "No, of course not. You just don't want to marry me, that's all." "I don't?" "No. You want one of my sisters." "I do?" "Yes. They're shorter, prettier, nicer—and softer spoken." "Can they dance?" I considered. "No. They're terrible." His shy smile returned. "Then I want you."
"You're crazy. You don't know what you're talking about. You don't know anything about me. " Of course, in those days, most people knew little about their betrothed. What I found remarkable was his conviction that we were compatible."It doesn't matter. I can just tell that you're the one. Can't you feel it?"
I met his eyes and felt a shiver go through me, like I'd stumbled into something bigger and more powerful than both of us. For just a moment, I allowed myself to consider that this man from a highly respected family might legitimately be interested in me. It was a heady feeling, and not just from the honor involved. It was from the way he looked at me and spoke to me, like I was both worthy and an equal. Something built between us, drawing me to him, and it confused me."You don't know anything about me," I repeated quietly, my mouth feeling dry.
His tentative smile grew bolder. "I know plenty. I know that you dance and that you're smart—too smart, according to my father. And I know that your family is banned from Lais’ bakery because you called her daughter a—""That wasn't my fault," I interjected quickly. Across the way, my father caught sight of us. I held up a hand of greeting, and he impatiently gestured me over. "My father wants me."
Kyriakos cast an uncertain look over there and hastily turned back. If I was known for a sharp tongue, my father was reputed to be worse, and however love struck and brazen, Kyriakos apparently wasn't quite up to facing him yet. "I'll have my father talk to yours."
The earlier joking was gone; Kyriakos was all seriousness now. But there was more than just that. His eyes were looking at me in a way I'd never been looked at before. I felt hot, then cold, and then hot again. A tingle played along my flesh. I couldn't take my eyes away from his."This isn't about trade deals," I whispered. "No. This is about you and me. You're the one."
I stared, uncharacteristically short on words. My shock now came more from that crazy feeling swirling inside of me, not from the preposterous nature of his proposal—one he shouldn't have even brought up without the involvement of our families. Later I'd learn what a leap this whole conversation had been for him. He was not given to long speeches or bold behavior. He said little, as a general rule, more content to express himself through his eyes and his music, and later…after we were married, his lovemaking.
"Look," he said, suddenly growing nervous as he misinterpreted my silence and expression, "I've saved. We can get a nice house. You won't have to live with so many people anymore. I'll be gone a lot, but you can probably run things and make deals better than me anyway. Not being able to buy bread will be problematic, but we might be able to afford a servant, or you can learn to—""Shut up," I said. He stared. "What?" "Just shut up. You're wasting time. Go tell your father to talk to mine. And," I added wryly, "I know how to make bread." He caught his breath. "You're sure?" "About the bread? Yes, I'm sure."
A slow smile bloomed across his face, spreading up into his eyes, making them smolder. I felt my pulse quicken and smiled back. Nothing else needed to be said. My father yelled again, and I ran off to join him.Pondering this memory and what was now happening with Seth, I stared dazedly out the front window and caught sight of Jody checking the mail. "Hey," I told Bastien. "I want to go say hi to her." I ran outside and waved, making her break out into one of her big, beautiful smiles. To my surprise, she even hugged me. "Ooh! I'm so glad to see you. How have you been?" We exchanged a few pleasantries, and then she grabbed my arm excitedly. "Are you busy today? You want to go to the mall?" To my surprise, that actually sounded like fun. More fun than listening to Bastien bitch and moan. "Sure." "Great. I'll go tell Dana."