Chapter 13Min,Doug's saxophonist, rummaged through the array of liquor bottles on Wyatt's counter. "I don't think he has any," he finally said. "Can you make a gimlet without lime juice?" "Um, no," I replied. "That kind of defeats the whole purpose. " "Oh. Okay. Well, then, you just want a shot or something?" He held up a bottle of—God help me—Skyy vodka.
"I think I'll pass." I surveyed the humming, thumping party around me. Tons of people had showed up as usual; I doubted the band even knew half of them. The wages of fame, I guessed. Also as usual, there were drugs and drinks aplenty for those who wanted such things—as long as one's vices didn't stray to lime juice, apparently. I turned back to Min. "You seen Alec tonight?""Nope. Said he'd be here. I hope he shows soon." Min shifted restlessly, and I wondered just how many people Alec was stringing along. The whole band, after all, had displayed that crazy, uncaring behavior.
I'd spent most of the day planning for tonight,
trying to figure out what it would take to get information and
possibly the drug itself from Alec. Finally, as the party drew
nearer, I accepted that I was overthinking the matter. Alec was
hardly a criminal mastermind. If I wanted something from him, it
was a safe bet that the removal of clothing and an orifice would
With that in mind, I'd dressed for the part in another little dress. Like the one I'd worn to the last concert, this too had a V-neck, straps, and short skirt. Unlike that one—which had been cotton and more like a sundress—this one was silk and looked kind of like a nightgown. Its rich, emerald green mirrored the green flecks in my eyes. I'd made sure of that, enhancing the color in both.
"About time you showed," berated Min, handing over a beer. They greeted each other with some kind of weird, shoulder-punching guy thing. Then Min held up a bottle of Tropical Soiree Key Lime Schnapps. "Hey, look what I found. Will this work?""Sure. Whatever," I said. I wanted to start working Alec, putting him at ease. If it involved some unholy drink concoction, then I'd have to take that risk. Min handed me a plastic cup filled with bright green liquid, and Alec and I wandered off to mingle. "You're letting Min experiment on you?" he asked, pointing at the cup.
Inspiration hit. "He's been experimenting on me all night." I laughed, a bit too loudly and held on to his arm. Alec didn't need to know this was my first drink. "But none of the other stuff he made looked this bad."He smiled and casually placed his arm around my waist. "Have I told you how great you look?"
"Yeah, I kind of got the message," I told him. Sniffing the cup, I detected nothing but sugar. Tentatively, I brought the cup to my lips and tasted. Bleh. It was like Kool-Aid and mouthwash. Fortunately, I don't have much of a gag reflex, so I managed to swallow without choking.
Alec flattered me a little more, and then I steered him toward the one topic guaranteed to captivate him: himself. It worked. Within a few minutes, I discovered that subject area was even more limited than I'd suspected. He only wanted to talk about the band.
"So yeah, we figure we should start expanding out of Seattle and hit some of the other big cities in the area. You know, like Portland and Vancouver. If we can start getting a following in the Northwest, we can hit the rest of the west coast, you know? And Corey's dad knows this guy who knows someone at a record company, and he's going to send him the review that was in the Seattle Times… "
I let him go on, nodding my head and saying "uh-huh" a lot. I should point out that I really was interested in Nocturnal Admission's success. I believed in them and their talent. Just not tonight. Other things demanded my attention."You know," he suddenly said out of nowhere, "I didn't think you really liked me." Yeah. Good observation. I smiled. "Sorry about that. There are so many jerks out there that I come off a little bitchy at first, until I know a guy. But the rest of the band swears by you, and I trust them. Besides"—I leaned closer, lowering my voice to a sultry purr— "I know you now, and I definitely like you now."
To my astonishment, Alec broke away from me. How unexpected was that? Weirder still was that I saw interest in his eyes but only his eyes. The rest of him was plainly distressed about something. My surprise must have been reflected in my expression, because a moment later, he laughed like nothing had happened and returned the hand to my waist."I wouldn't really trust the guys on much, but hey, if they've convinced you, whatever."
I turned the smile back on, pretending I hadn't noticed the weird reaction. We started talking again, and I continued to let him dictate the parameters of our conversation. When he brought up skateboarding and the benefits of one board brand over another, I decided Doug didn't appreciate the extent of my love for him.Slightly bored, I leaned into Alec and drank from the cup without thinking about it. "Son of a bitch!" I swore, tasting that mess again. "What?"
"This." I set the cup down on a rickety coffee table, sloshing the green liquid. "It's terrible." I realized this was my opening. "God, I've had such a fucked-up week." I turned so that I stood even closer, resting a hand on his back, sliding it down to his waist. "I'm glad you had this party. You guys must need to get a little crazy too to handle all the stuff you've been doing."
He seemed happy about my proximity but didn't move his hand from my waist. "We know when to work, and we know when to play." He spoke with a ridiculous swagger, again attempting to project a wisdom he was too young to have.I grinned at him. "I like to play too."
Like before, the look in his eyes said he did want to play— especially if we played doctor. But his body language didn't match it. He was holding himself back for some reason, which didn't fit with my image of him as a womanizing drug lord.But he kept smiling, even if the rest of him was stiff. "How do you like to play?"
"Not with that." I pointed at the jettisoned cup and looked back up at him with doe eyes, both innocent and provocative. I tried to recall the stupid expression he'd used at the first party. "You maybe got anything…harder?"A pleased and—unless I was mistaken—relieved smile danced on his face. "Maybe I do." I punched him lightly, then snaked my arm around his neck. "I know you do. I saw you give it to Doug. You guys are in on something good, and you won't share. Whereas me…well, I always share…" He still didn't take the physical bait or go for my over-the-top vixen lines, but the rest had piqued his interest. "I've got something," he said, glancing around carefully. "Let's go talk in the bedroom. "
Ah. Now we were getting somewhere. I followed
him back to Wyatt's small messy bedroom which miraculously wasn't
occupied yet. I sat on the unmade bed, crossing my legs, keeping my
body language as open and relaxed as possible.
"Are we going to play now?"
Reaching into his coat pocket, he sat down on the bed beside me and held up a tiny plastic bag, much smaller than the bag Reese kept his pot in. In the poor lighting, I could discern tiny glittering crystals. Almost like red sugar."This," he said in a low voice, "is what you've been waiting for your whole life. This is the stuff that's going to change your world. Make you who you were born to be."
I was rendered speechless, but not from his melodramatic prologue. It was the crystals. This close to them, I…well, felt them. They had an aura, almost the same way an immortal has a signature. Only this wasn't exactly a pleasant aura. The crystals felt strange to me. They sent little Shockwaves into the air. They made my skin crawl.And weirdest of all, I'd felt them before. Once with Doug, once with the band. I hoped Alec would interpret my frown as cute confusion. "What is that?" A sly smile spread over his face. "A magic potion, Georgina." I smiled back, not having to feign puzzlement. "I don't believe in magic."
"Oh, you will after this." He pressed the bag into my palm, and I squelched a sharp cry. I didn't like touching the crystals. "Go grab something to drink and put them in it. Mix it all up and then drink—preferably as fast as you can. You'll get the effects sooner.""What'll they do?" "Something good. Something you'll like." He ran his hand through the strands of my hair. "Man, I can't wait to see how you react to them."
How I reacted? I didn't like the sound of that. Maybe I wasn't getting the same thing as Doug after all. Maybe I was getting the date-rape drug. Of course, with as inviting as I was trying to be, he had to realize those kinds of extremes weren't necessary. I pushed the unease out of my head. "What do I owe you for these?"The smoke in my voice clearly told him how I'd like him to extract payment. "Nothing. It's a gift."
"Nothing?" I trailed my hand across his leg. Believe me, I really didn't want to sleep with this guy, but I wanted to stay in his good graces to figure out what the hell this stuff was. And yeah, okay, I sort of wanted to see him suffer from the energy loss. "Are you sure?"I slid my body closer to his, gently pushing him back on the bed. His eyes widened as I lay down next to him, brushing my lips over his neck. Turning his face toward mine, I moved my lips closer to his, lightly kissing the area just by his mouth. "Are you really sure?" I asked, voice lower.
His breathing grew heavy, and he stroked my side, tracing the shape of my hip and moving down to my bare leg. Looking half-terrified, he moistened his lips in anticipation. My tongue snaked up to them, dancing around their edges before gently probing inside. He stifled a moan and then pushed me aside."No…I…no. No." He sat up, shaking. "Not yet." I sat up as well, moving in one fluid and graceful motion. Tossing my hair over one shoulder, I gave him a languid smile. "Come on, I want to." "I can't…but maybe, well maybe later we can work something out."
Both longing and reluctance showed in his expression, which I found relieving. Nice to know my charms were still working and he wasn't all business after all. Maybe this was just a first-one's-free type of deal, and he'd be more thorough in his demands later. Fine by me. It wasn't the end of the world if I didn't sleep with him, and hopefully we wouldn't even need the second batch."Here." Having seized control of himself, Alec held out his beer to me. "Huh?" "Go ahead and try them. You can mix them in this."
I looked down at the sparkling red granules. They almost had a light of their own. That weird sensation pulsed out at me, grating my immortal senses. No way was I going to ingest the contents of this bag. I shook my head."I can't right now. I've got to go to another party. I promised a friend. I'll try them later, okay?" He didn't look happy about that. "I wanted you to try it now." "What's wrong with later?" "Nothing I guess…just, look, don't let anyone else know, okay? I don't have a lot of this stuff. If word gets out, everyone'll want some. Right now I'm only letting special people try it." "Am I special?" I teased.
Alec gave me a long, searching look, blatantly studying my face and the way the silk fit me. Again, the appreciation and attraction shone in his eyes, but he held himself back from my smile of invitation. "Very special."I managed to extract myself from the party shortly thereafter but not before Alec had warned me again to keep the crystals to myself. He also urged me to let him know how I liked them. "The second dose is even better," he promised.
Finally escaping, I breathed a sigh of relief, alone in the cool night air. As I walked to my car, I shoved the crystals into my purse, still creeped out by how they felt. They were supernatural; that much was obvious. I knew I had to get them to someone who could identify them. That, however, would have to wait a little longer since I was already past when I'd said I'd call Seth. Happily, I discovered I could no longer sense the packet once it was encased in the fabric. That was something, at least."Where are you at?" I asked Seth when he answered his cell phone. "Terry and Andrea's. You want to come over?"
Spending the evening with his family sounded refreshingly ordinary after the sleaze and debauchery of Alec and that party. In fact, compared to everything else weird in my life at the moment, it sounded downright wonderful.Identical blonde faces greeted me at the door when I arrived, both sets of lips forming a perfect 'o' when they saw me. A moment later, Brandy appeared behind her little twin sisters. "Oh, Georgina, that dress is so pretty."
She pushed Morgan and McKenna out of the way, both still starstruck. I stepped inside the Mortensen home and found complete chaos. Sheets of clear plastic lay everywhere. Masking tape covered the wall trim. Most of the furniture had been pushed out of the living room, shoved into a pile in the hallway beyond. Those items remaining were wrapped in thick cocoons of more plastic sheeting. Paint buckets, trays, and brushes littered most of the free space, and everything— the people included—was splattered with yellow paint."Georgina!" squealed eight-year old Kendall, tearing toward me. Her mother, walking into the room, leapt out and tackled her daughter. "Don't touch her!" Andrea exclaimed, tumbling to the ground. "Not in that dress." I laughed, wanting to sweep up each one of the girls in an enormous hug, the dress be damned.
"Seth," chastised Terry, standing on top of a ladder, "why didn't you tell her this was a war zone?" The Mortensen Brothers always entertained me. Despite being younger, Terry always seemed exasperated by Seth's scattered behavior and often had to prod him into reality.
Seth sat cross-legged on the floor with Kayla, youngest of the Mortensen daughters, on his lap. Like everyone else, he had paint all over him—including his Writers Do It at Their Desks shirt. Looking as serene as a Buddhist monk, he flashed me one of his distracted smiles. "Because it's always a war zone over here. ""Well, get her out of here and take her somewhere nice," Terry said. "No need to drag her down into this." This immediately triggered cries of outrage from the girls. "I don't mind staying," I told them. "I'd like to help."
Andrea rose from her tackle, one arm still
around Kendall. "We're going to have to cover you up then. Come on,
let's see if I've got anything that'll fit."
She released Kendall. The little girl took a step toward me but didn't touch anything. "You look like one of the ladies in the Victoria's Secret catalog."
Her mother groaned and led me to her bedroom, forcing us to squeeze through the furniture packed hallway. Being in Terry and Andrea's bedroom was a lot different than being in Dana's. It was messier for one thing, with an unmade bed and piles of laundry on the floor. The color scheme and decorating were a lot less coordinated too, suggesting it had all been pieced together over the years, not preplanned with a designer's cold eye. Pictures of the girls at various ages covered the walls and dressers, and free surfaces held odd pieces of jewelry, books, and change. And yet, despite that clutter, the whole room felt filled with love, like the people who occupied it were happy and cared about each other. It made the place warm and cozy, not sterile and sharp as Dana's had been. It made me feel good to be in here, jealous that I had nothing like it with another person, and almost intrusive to be in such an intimate setting. It was like eavesdropping.
"Ah, here we are," murmured Andrea, rummaging through drawers. She handed me some clothes. I slipped out of the dress and tried them on. While she had a fantastic body for having birthed five daughters, Andrea was still taller and bigger than me, so the clothes hung loose and long. Changing her mind, she handed me denim overalls instead of the jeans. They had to be rolled up at the cuffs, but the straps kept them on me. I tied my hair in a ponytail and was ready to go.Seth laughed when he saw me. "Hey," I said, poking him with my foot, "be nice." "I think this is the first time I've ever seen you look anything less than…" He paused, playing with word choice. "Well-planned." "Why, you silver-tongued romantic devil. That is the look I usually go for. Other women go for sexy or chic or beautiful. But me? Well-planned all the way." "You know what I mean. Besides, unplanned isn't a bad look for you. Not bad at all." His voice sounded deliciously low and dangerous, and something ignited between us as we held each other's eyes. "You guys can flirt on your own time," said Terry briskly, handing me a roller and tray of paint. "Right now, you work for us. Think you can do this part of the wall?" "Sure." I glanced over at Seth, whose main job still seemed to be restraining Kayla. "Why aren't you painting?" "Because he isn't allowed to," answered Brandy, painting deftly around a doorway. "Uncle Seth's a libation," explained Kendall. "Liability," corrected her mother. She grinned at me. "The odds say you have to be a better painter than him. Correction: the laws of the universe say you have to be." "Of course she is. She's good at everything." Seth watched me apply a smooth, even coat. "See?"
Painting with the Mortensens made for an utterly normal and utterly enjoyable evening. They were so funny and nice that it was hard not to love them. Working side by side, I could almost pretend I was really one of them. Like this could be my own family. They included me in everything and spoke as though Seth and I were a done deal, assuming I would be with them not only for Thanksgiving but also for Christmas and an assortment of other get-togethers.The simple, casually extended affection made me feel happy inside, and sad too. I would never be able to quite fit in with any mortal family, even if this wacky relationship with Seth did ever stabilize. I pushed aside a plastic-covered box and got a peek inside. Moving the sheet further, I smiled down at a framed picture of Terry and Andrea's wedding party—including a much younger Seth. "Look at you," I teased. "You used to shave." He rubbed the stubble on his lower face. "I still shave." "So this is the infamous occasion Seth almost missed?" "Yup," said Terry, a rueful tone in his voice. "Apparently finishing A Talented Heat was more important than witnessing my nuptials." "Oh," I said neutrally, "that's a really good one." I wasn't sure if it was missing-a-wedding good, but it was still one of my favorites. It might have been worth the sacrifice. "Who's the other guy beside you?" "Our other brother. Ian." "Another Mortensen? You guys are abundant." "Tell me about it," said Terry. "Ian's the black sheep." "I thought I was the black sheep," said Seth, sounding almost hurt. "No. You're the unfocused artistic one. I'm the responsible one. Ian's the wild, hedonistic one." "What's hedonistic?" asked Kendall. Her father considered. "It means you run up a lot of credit card bills you can't pay, change jobs a lot, and have a lot of…lady friends." Brandy rolled her eyes. "Good euphemism, Dad." Only in the Mortensen family, I decided delightedly, would a fourteen-year old use a word like "euphemism." Andrea walked over to the portrait and admired her younger self. In the picture, she wore a long-sleeved lace dress that left her shoulders bare.
"Ah, those were the days," she sighed. "Back before pregnancy ruined my body." "Well, that wasn't entirely before pregnancy," observed her husband in an undertone. She shot him a dangerous look. Brandy groaned.Seth tried to hide a smile and changed the subject. "That church had horrible carpet. Burgundy shag." He shook his head. "I think I'm going to get married outdoors." "Oh my God," said Terry with mock horror, "I can't believe you just acknowledged you might get married. I thought you were married to your writing." "Hey, I've never had a problem with polygamy." Kendall's eyes widened. "What's polygamy?"
Later, when we'd finished the living room, Seth and I offered to start cleaning up while Terry and Andrea put the brood to bed. The girls resisted, clinging to Seth and me, wanting us to talk and come back tomorrow."My nieces think you're a rock star," he observed as we washed brushes in the kitchen. "I think they like you better than me." "I'm not the one they had to tear Kayla from. Hey, does she ever talk?" "Sometimes. Usually when there's bait involved—like candy or small objects she might choke on." We washed the brushes in silence until I brought up the topic that had been on my mind ever since he'd mentioned it. "An outdoor wedding, huh?"
The notion of Seth getting married held a perverse fascination for me. Fascinating because I was female and attracted to such things. Perverse because I knew I wouldn't be the bride at such an event. Succubus logistics obviously made that impossible. Then, of course, there was the fact that my mortal marriage had not gone so well. In addition to me cheating and pushing my husband into a debilitating depression, it had later resulted in me selling my soul and joining the ranks of hell. That didn't make for a good matrimonial track record.Seth cut me a look, eyes amused. "Yup." "I didn't know guys ever thought about that kind of stuff." "Sometimes we do." "You got any other details worked out? Or just the outside lovefest part?"
He pondered this as we returned to the living room. He wore the intense expression that seized him when he was trying to write a certain line or think of something clever to say. "I want a good buffet," he said. "Not one of those cheap ones with cold cuts. And no bows on the chairs or anything like that. Man, I hate those.""Wow. I guess you've got it all figured out." I began pulling masking tape off the trim while he knelt down to gather more brushes. He continued on, still considering. "And I want my bride to wear open-toed shoes." "Why open-toed?" He looked up with astonishment. "Because toes are sexy." I looked down at my own bare feet. They were small and cute, each toenail painted a pale lavender. Andrea hadn't had any shoes my size. I gave him a sly smile. "Like these toes?" He looked away and returned to his work. Forgetting my masking tape, I strolled over to him, trying not to laugh. "Why Seth Mortensen, do you have a fetish?" "It's not a fetish," he replied evenly. "Just an appreciation." This time I did laugh. "Oh yeah?" I moved my foot out to tickle his arm, wiggling the toes. "You appreciate these toes?" "I appreciate everything about you—even how mean you are." I crouched beside him and slung an arm around him. "To think, all this time I've been prancing around you in low-cut shirts and no underwear, in awe of your stalwart resistance, when really it was my toes—" "No underwear?" he interrupted. "Wait. Are you wearing any now?" "My lips are sealed. You'll have to find out the old-fashioned way. I'm not going to talk. " "Oh," he said in a warning voice, "we have ways of making you talk." "Like what?" In one surprisingly quick motion, Seth sprang up and rolled me onto my back. One arm pinned me and the other held a paintbrush over me, wet with paint. "Hey!" I cried. "That's not sexy. That's not even cool." Actually, being pinned to the floor by him was about as sexy as it got. He stabbed it toward me playfully, never actually making contact, but I flinched anyway. "What's the problem?" he teased. "You can just shape-shift it away." "Oh! You're a twisted bastard." His lips quirked into a wicked smile, and he dabbed the brush at my cheek, leaving a small streak of paint. A second later, he added a matching mark on the other cheek.
"Ready for battle," he declared. I yelped in dismay, then used his momentary satisfaction to break free and reverse the situation, rolling him over. Now I hovered on top of him, one hand on his chest, the other on his arm.
"I'm learning more about you every day," I observed, leaning my face toward his. My hair had come undone from its haphazard ponytail and now hung down, almost creating a curtain around him. "You've got a real dark side.""Is that a problem?" "Actually I kind of like it." I lowered my mouth and gave him what we had now dubbed a "stealth kiss"—the kind of semi-deep kiss perfected at the concert that just pushed the envelope of succubus absorption.
I pulled up a moment later, my lips still tingling from where we'd touched. He shifted one hand to the small of my back while his other tangled itself up in my hair. A lazy and contented smile played on his face. "You want to go grab something to eat after this?""What do you have in mind?" "Anything. So long as the company stays this good."
I smiled and leaned down to kiss him again, only this time I had trouble keeping the kiss as stealthy as it should have been. When I should have broken away, I kissed him a little harder instead, letting my tongue probe more boldly into his mouth. Surprisingly, what abruptly stopped this indiscretion was not the twinge of energy transfer, but Seth himself."Thetis," he warned, pushing me away—not harshly, but not gently either. I stared, my better judgment suddenly scrambled. I wanted to kiss him again. And again. To hell with the succubus thing.
And it wasn't just because of the chemistry or the physical roughhousing, the comments about my toes and lack of underwear. It was about everything tonight. Pretending I was part of his family. Talking about weddings that could never happen. I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Joy and delight over the way just being around him felt. Knowing he loved me for both my inner and outer selves. A warm contentment that his presence naturally brought on. And, of course, the dark emotions were there too. Anger that our relationship could never be complete. Despair that he was not immortal. Jealousy that I could never be his bride. What had Jerome said? That being with me denied Seth all the normal things in life? Kissing him was a base, anxious reaction to all these emotions I couldn't otherwise deal with."Thetis," he repeated, studying my face and whatever crazy expression was on it. "Come on. You're stronger than this." He sounded sad and sympathetic, yet stern and parental too. His words snapped me out of my emotional vortex, suddenly making me feel, well, inadequate compared to him. Terry walked back into the living room, looking rightfully startled to see me on top of his brother. "Do you guys need to go to bed too?" Seth and I exchanged bitter, amused smiles. "If only," I said.
Once everything was cleaned up, Seth and I left to find a very late dinner. We stayed quiet, neither of us bringing up what had happened earlier. I think he knew I was taking it harder than he had and wanted to say something to cheer me up. But nothing apparently came to mind, so silence reigned until we returned to Terry's house to get our respective cars."Georgina," he said suddenly, hesitantly, as we stood by my car. "I have to know something." I looked at him wearily, not liking the seriousness in his voice. I really didn't want to deal with any more weighty issues tonight. I sighed. "What?" He studied me a moment, apparently assessing my emotional state. "So… areyou wearing any underwear now?"
I blinked in astonishment, taken aback. Then I saw how hard he fought to keep a straight expression. It was too funny. Seth was trying to make me feel better, very much in a goofy way I might have attempted. The tight coil of frustration inside of me unwound."Yes," I told him with a smile. "Oh," he said, looking relieved to see me relax but disappointed by the answer. "But you know what the real beauty of shape-shafting is?" "What?" "I'm not anymore."