The dealer's house sat away from the road, just like all sinister houses should, I suppose. My biased perceptions aside, there was actually little else about the house that was all that creepy. It was big and expensive-looking, spreading out lazily on beautifully manicured lawns, visible to me even at night. In a region where yards were at a premium, that much land signified a great deal of money. Unlike Bastien's place, this house had no similarly well-to-do neighbors. This house was in a class of its own; it could not be part of a mere suburban neighborhood.
"Where are we?" I asked, because it seemed like the kind of naive, starry-eyed question I should be asking. Alec had met me downtown and then driven me out to this place in his own car. We were about twenty minutes outside the city.
"This is where the guy lives," he told me
happily. His mood improved as we got closer to the house. "He'll
hook you up."
The car followed the long, sinuous driveway and came to a stop by the garage. In an oddly chivalrous way, he opened the car door for me and gestured that I follow him inside. Glancing back at his beat-up Ford Topaz, I couldn't help thinking that being an immortal drug lord's lackey should pay better.
Alec led us through a side door in the house, and even I was taken aback at what I found inside. The first word that came to mind was lush. And not the drunk kind either. I meant in the opulent sense, the kind of lush you sink your teeth into. The walls, floor, and ceilings consisted of gleaming dark hardwood, almost like we were inside a lodge—say, a lodge that cost seven figures. Beams of that beautiful wood crisscrossed the open, cathedral ceiling. Jewel-toned oil paintings in gilt frames hung on the walls, and I had enough of a sense for the value of art to recognize they had not come from Bed Bath & Beyond.
We crossed out of the foyer and found more of the same in a large living room. Its focal point was an enormous fireplace whose brickfaçadestretched to the ceiling. A multicolored stained-glass landscape hung above the fireplace's opening, and flames from the roaring fire—along with several strategically placed candles—cast the only light in the room. Nothing electrical.
In that dim, flickering lighting, I sensed the man before I saw him. The same unfamiliar immortal signature from the concert carried to me, coupled with something else. This close to him, I noticed how much he felt like the crystals. Or rather, how much the crystals felt like him, as if they were pale, fractured versions of the masterpiece. The whole vibe from him felt weird but not quite as discordant as the crystals themselves had."Alec," said a creamy voice, "who is your lovely friend?"
The man unfolded from the couch, standing in one fluid motion. I now saw the same features as before: flawless tanned skin, long black hair, high cheekbones. He also wore the same hot Victorian couture, complete with another of those gorgeous silk shirts that billowed around his arms and showed smooth skin through the V-neck."This is Georgina," said Alec, voice quaking with nervousness and excitement. "Just like I said."
The man glided to us and took my hand in both of his. "Georgina. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman." He drew my hand to his lips—which were full and pink—and kissed my skin. He held my hand a moment, letting his dark eyes bore into mine, and then he slowly straightened up and released me. "My name is Sol."I turned off all my impulses to make snappy jokes and/or maul this guy, instead opting for stunned innocence mingled with a little fear. "H-hello." I swallowed nervously and looked down at my feet. "You've done well," Sol told Alec. "Very well." I didn't have to see Alec to tell he was practically melting with relief. "So…does that mean…I can, you know…?" "Yes, yes." Unless I was mistaken, a slight note of irritation underscored that pleasant voice. "Afterward. Go upstairs now. I'll summon you when I'm ready. " Alec started to leave, and I grabbed his sleeve, still playing frightened maiden. "Wait—where are you going?" He smiled at me. "I'll be right back. It's okay. You wanted more, right? Sol's going to get it for you." I must have truly looked terrified because he squeezed my arm reassuringly. "It's okay. Really." I bit my lip and gave him a hesitant nod. His eyes held mine for a moment, and something very like regret flickered across them. Then he left. "Come sit with me," intoned Sol, taking my hand again.
He led me to a sumptuous couch by the fire. Warmth from that orange glow spilled over me, and the flames were reflected in his dark eyes. I sat down gingerly, scooting back because the cushions were so big. We sat there quietly.He smiled expectantly, and I gave him a faltering smile back. "Alec said you could give me more…you know…of that stuff." "You enjoyed it then?" "Yes. Oh yes. It made me feel…" "Immortal?" "Y-yes, that's it. Please. I need more. I can pay you…whatever you want."
He waved a hand carelessly. "We'll discuss such mundane matters later. For now, let's see if we can't satiate your hunger." He leaned over to a small table and lifted up two goblets. Goblets. How quaint. "This should tide you over until we can arrange a larger batch."
I took the cup from him. It felt heavy, like gold. Nothing but the best if you were going to drink the food of the gods, I thought. They held a dark red liquid. If the crystals felt like a weak approximation of Sol, the aura radiating off of this cup felt like mega-Sol. It was intense and strong, making the vibe from the crystals seem like a total nonevent. Maybe that was what happened when ambrosia liquefied.I realized then he'd been waiting for me while I pondered. "Drink up."
I hesitated, not having to feign apprehension this time. Drink up? What should I do? If I didn't drink, my cover might be blown, and I still hadn't had "provocation" to smite this bastard or whatever one did to someone with a dart-arrowhead-thing. Carter and Jerome had said ambrosia wouldn't hurt an immortal; they'd even said an immortal could resist its nasty effects to a certain extent, much longer than humans. That didn't necessarily make me feel better, though. I preferred to be in my normal range of skills to deal with this, but it looked like I didn't have that luxury. I couldn't delay any longer.
Smiling shyly, I brought the cup to my lips and drank. He did the same. Who could tell? Maybe personality amplification would help me out here. Maybe I had a secret Amazonian alter ego lurking within me who was dying to jump out via the ambrosia and bludgeon this guy with a goblet.
Once Sol started drinking, he didn't stop. He tipped the cup back until he'd consumed it all. I followed suit. The stuff really didn't taste so bad. In fact, it tasted sweet, almost sickeningly so. Weirdest of all was its consistency. Thick. Almost viscous.
"There," he said, taking my empty cup. "You'll feel better soon, and then we can talk reasonably." He shifted into a more comfortable position, long legs stretched out and relaxed. He had a slim build and delicate features. His narrow fingers wound one of his black curls around it. "Tell me about yourself, Georgina. What do you do?""I, uh, work in a bookstore." "Ah, you're a reader then." "I try to be." He inclined his head toward a wall covered in books. "I'm a reader myself. There's no greater pursuit than improving one's mind. "
He started talking to me about some of his favorite books, and I smiled and commented as appropriate. As we talked, I began to feel…well, for lack of a more descriptive term, good. Really good. Almost like I was buzzed from an excellent liqueur. My limbs tingled a little, and a warm sense of euphoria burned through me. I heard myself laughing at one of his jokes. I almost sounded genuine.
"You're very beautiful," he suddenly said, and I wondered when he'd moved so close to me. I had to blink to stay focused. The room spun slightly, and my hands and feet kept delaying in obeying my orders. Sol reached out and touched my cheek, trailing those graceful fingers down my neck. "Your beauty is a gift."
I tried to move, mainly to see if I could actually manage it, not to avoid his touch. Honestly, his touch was pleasant—extremely pleasant. It made my pulse pick up a little. I could, I soon discovered, still move. I was just a little sluggish."Shhh," he crooned, placing a restraining hand on my wrist. "Don't be afraid. Everything will be all right." "W-what are you doing?"
He had an arm around my waist now and was moving his mouth toward the spot where my neck met my shoulder. His lips, when they touched flesh, were warm and full of promise. I trembled a little under that kiss and tried to figure out what was going on here.
The short answer, obviously, was that something had gone wrong. I felt dizzy and disoriented enough to be at a frat party over at U.W. On top of that, this immortal—this strange immortal I barely knew—suddenly seemed more alluring than I'd imagined possible. Hadn't I come here to kick his ass? Why was I making out with him? Was this what ambrosia did to me? Were these my core traits—the power to get buzzed and take pleasure in sex? To become even easier than I already was?
His hands moved down and unbuttoned my shirt so they could slide down and cup my breasts, which were just barely covered by the black mesh bra I'd bought with Dana. He kissed me directly now, his mouth pressing against mine. As his tongue delicately slipped between my lips, I tasted a sweetness akin to the ambrosia.Bottom line: it needs to be self-defense.
So Carter had said, but suddenly I didn't
really need much defending—unless it was from myself. My own hands
were moving without my conscious knowledge to unfasten his pants,
and our bodies were becoming entwined together on the soft
Self-defense. Self-defense. Why self-defense? What was I forgetting here?
I pushed through the red haze muddling my senses, forcing clarity. The dart. The dart would stop Sol somehow, stop him from continuing to spread the poison of ambrosia. It would stop him from hurting people…like Doug.I battled through mydisorientationand pulled my mouth away from Sol's, attempting to squirm the rest of the way out of his grasp. I won a little room but not much. He was still close. "No…" I gasped out. "Don't do this. Stop." Sol, regarding me with surprised amusement, shushed me. "You don't know what you're saying." "I do. Stop."
I wriggled one arm free, one arm that then snaked to thepocketcontaining Carter's pouch. I needed the other arm free too, but Sol was holding it. Looking down, I suddenly saw that his wrist was bleeding. How had that happened? I hadn't caused it."Georgina, you are about to be honored above all mortal women. Lay back. Stop struggling. No harm will come to you. You will enjoy this night, I promise."
He moved his mouth back to mine, and again that blazing euphoria swelled within me. A traitorous moan of pleasure caught in my throat. Taking this as submission, Sol's grip on my restrained arm lessened, and I shifted it away just enough that both of my hands now touched the pouch. Yet, it was a hard battle. My motor control still wasn't all it should be. Kissing him, in that moment, seemed much more important than some silly pouch. My mind didn't want to focus on anything else.
But I forced it to. Through sheer strength of will, I pushed the physical pleasure out of my head and instead replayed every consequence of the ambrosia I'd seen: Casey's devastation, Doug's wild swings from darkly frenetic exuberance to even darker depression, and finally his limp body in the hospital.Mortals are fragile things. Very fragile. And Sol played with them as if they were nothing. The smoldering coal of my anger began to burn again. He's a stronger immortal than you. Preying on you— especially when you belong to Jerome, so to speak— is a big no-no. You would be justified in protecting yourself. Again, I pulled my mouth away. "Stop," I said again more firmly. "I want you to stop. Stop doing this."
"I'm not going to stop," Sol snapped. Anger marred his honeyed tone. His breath was heavy, and his chest heaved with exertion. He—or I—had removed his shirt, and I had a perfect view of that unprotected skin. "I'm not going to stop, and believe me, once I start, you won't want me to stop either."
My fingers moved to open the pouch; the other
hand slowly readied itself to reach inside. The ambrosia in my
system dulled my reflexes, but I kept battling through it and sized
up where in his chest his heart would be.
"I've asked you three times to stop. Once should have been enough. No means no."
My hand was inside the pouch, pulling the dart out. Sol and I both felt its power at the same time, just as he realized what I was. His eyes widened, but I didn't give him time to react. I didn't think or falter. Just as Carter had ordered, I simply took action—well, with a cheesy punch line, of course."Been there, done that," I said, slamming the dart into his heart. For half a beat, Sol froze, unable to believe this was happening. And that's when things got messy.