Chapter 5

I jerked my head away from him.




Bastien didn't miss a beat, obviously amused by my reaction.


"You heard me. We're going to break in. I overheard Bill saying the whole family would be out the night after next."


"And pray tell, how are we going to lead her to scandal through violating her home? By proving to the world that her security system isn't as good as she thought it was?"

He laughed. "No, by rifling through her paperwork and finding some sort of incriminating evidence. Money laundered from the CPFV. Illegal means of carrying out the group's goals. Maybe even love letters from the infamous pool boy. You know there's got to be something."

"Bastien, this is—"




"Ridiculous. Even for us."


"Hardly. Like I said, it's a backup plan. Probably not even necessary, since I suspect she's probably in the shower right now masturbating to fantasies of me."


"Yeah, she sure looked like it back there," I said nastily. "More likely she's sanitizing her pool after my defilement of it. Well, backup or no, you're going to have to do this break-in on your own. "


"Come on!We'll beinvisible.Nothing to lose."


"That's not the point. The point is I don't do this kind of thing."


"We're agents of evil. We lead innocents into temptation and suck away their life. How is breaking and entering that much of a leap?"


I tightened my lips and shook my head.


"I thought those broadcasts pissed you off. Don't you want to see her fall?"


"Not enough, apparently."

He fixed me with a sharp stare. "Did you know that the CPFV recently kicked out a woman for leaving her husband? He had been beating her incessantly—sent her to the hospital twice. When she finally got the nerve to walk out on him, Dana condemned her for violating the sanctity of marriage. Said the woman hadn't tried hard enough to make things work."

I groaned. "Don't tell me this stuff."


"So are you in or out?"


"You sure are pushy, you know that?"


He kissed my cheek and hugged me. "I learned from the best."

I went to Doug's concert the following night, showing up about halfway through the opening act's set. I found several of the bookstore staff occupying a corner but saw no sign of Seth yet. Part of me regretted the whole separate-arrival mandate, but then I remembered the part in Seth's story whereGenevievehad spanked O'Neill. Suddenly I didn't feel so bad anymore.

While waiting at the bar for a vodka gimlet, a familiar shape slid up next to me.


"Hey, hey, pretty lady."


I flashed a smile at Doug's bass player, Corey. "Hey yourself. You guys ready for this? You're in the big time now."


He returned my smile, eyes alight. Intimidating and fierce looking, he wore a lot of black and had piercings everywhere. He was also one of the nicest guys I knew.

"Hell yeah, we are. We were born for this night. This is the night that's going to define our existence! The night that's going to define existence for everyone in this room!" He extended his hands over his head and whooped with delight, emitting something like a cross betweenTarzanand a B movie Apache chief. The silvery glitter of those piercings added to his savage persona.

He was as exuberant as Doug had been the other day. Maybe more so. As much as I wanted to see the band succeed, there was no telling what true fame would do to them. They'd be bouncing off the walls. Setting things on fire.

When I got the gimlet, Corey tugged at my arm. "Come on. I'll give you a sneak peek backstage. You can say hi to Doug."


I glanced back at the corner, saw no sign of Seth, and followed him.

In the dressing room, the rest of the band was in similar form. They all knew me and cheered my arrival, holding up their drinks in a giddy salute. Doug was dressed in a spectacularly gaudy manner, sporting black spandex biker shorts, a Thundercats shirt Seth would have envied, and a sweeping red velour cape. His shoulder-length black hair was tied back in a sleek ponytail. He scooped me up as I entered, hoisting me so that I nearly sat on his shoulder. Min, the group's saxophonist, waved the instrument over his head in barbaric approval at my capture as Doug roared a cry of victory.

"Here she is! Kin-fucking-caid! You ready to rock, babe?"


"I'm ready to dump this drink on your head. Put me down. " Doug laughed and eased me down to the floor. I stumbled a bit but not from being set down.


It was here again.

That weird tingling feeling I'd felt with Doug in our office. Only this time, it was stronger. Much stronger. It pulsed around me, almost making me squirm. I peered around stupidly, trying to figure out where it came from, but it was impossible to tell. The sensation was everywhere, an abrasive vibration singing through the air that only I seemed affected by.

Wyatt, a redheaded guitarist, grinned at me. "How much have you been drinking out there? You look a little glazed over. "


"Starry-eyed's more like it," said Doug, teasing. "Not every day a girl can be around this much sexy action, huh?"


"Whatever. I think her sexiness is a little more lethal than ours," Wyatt said. He gently turned me around. "You met Alec yet?"

The new drummer, presumably. He stepped forward and bowed before me with a flourish, just as goofily wound up as the rest. He was a little younger than they were, a bit lanky, and had fading blue streaks in his blond hair. He seemed only slightly less keyed up. Still clueless about what was making me feel so weird, I attempted to push it out of my mind and offer Alec a normal smile.

"Hi," I said. "You sure you want to hang with this group of misfits?"


"I've seen worse."


"In an asylum?"


He laughed and nodded at my drink. "What are you having?"


"Vodka gimlet."

"Nice choice," he said coolly, though I suspected he'd probably never heard of one before. There was a total look of fumbling inexperience about him. "Order your next one on me. Tell the bartender to put it on my tab."

I worked hard to keep a straight face. He was attempting suave movie-star lines, but they lost some of their effectiveness coming from someone who was barely old enough to drink himself. He probably hoped Wyatt's earlier assessment of my inebriation was accurate.

"Hey," said Doug, grabbing hold of me. "Stop flirting with my Groupie Queen. Only when you can snatch the fly with the chopsticks, Grasshopper, can you accumulate the groupies. For now, the student must leave the groupies to the master. "

Doug marched me around the room in a—very bad— mock tango. The jerking motion, combined with that grating buzzing in the air, made me lightheaded. "Is the rest of the gang out there?"


"Waiting with bated breath," I promised. I cocked my head at him. "Shouldn't you be a little more nervous than this?"


"Sure. If I had anything to be nervous about. Which I don't."

I felt just as astonished now as I had at work. Doug knew his own talent, but I'd seen him before shows in the past. While always joking and in a good mood, there had been a nervousness to him before, a private sort of ruminating while he mentally braced himself to put on the best show he could. I knew he'd said the band had hit some sort of peak recently, but the change was dramatic, to say the least.

After a few more jokes and sexual innuendoes, I finally left them. Just like that, the discordant feeling disappeared as soon as I cleared the door. It was like breathing fresh air after a sandstorm. Glancing behind me, I stared into the room, trying to find any indication of what had just happened. Nothing revealed itself. The band had forgotten me already. They were laughing at something else, drinking their beer or pop or whatever, and roughhousing in what must have been some male tension-reliever. Puzzled, I walked away.

Seth had joined the others when I finally made my way back to the main floor. I felt a smile creeping up on me in spite of my concerns. His hair was as unkempt as ever, and he wore a Thundercats shirt.


"Hey," I said when I saw him, conscious that everyone was watching us, apparently waiting for me to pull out my handcuffs.


"Hey," he returned, hands casually in his pockets, posture relaxed and easy like always.


"You know, Doug's wearing a shirt very similar to that."


"I know. I lent it to him."


We all shared a good laugh over that, and Beth turned to me. "You saw Doug? Is he ready for this?"


"The question, actually," I told them with a small frown, "is 'Is the world ready for Doug?'"

A half hour later, they saw what I meant. Nocturnal Admission burst onto the stage, and suddenly all that pent-up energy and enthusiasm was channeled into their music. Like I'd told Doug, I'd long been a fan of the group. Their style combined hard rock with a bit of ska, and the fusion always hooked me. After centuries filled with repetition, innovation was a treat. They regularly performed with flair and passion, making them as much fun to watch as to listen to. My biased affection for Doug didn't hurt either.

Tonight was unbelievable. All of their songs were new; I'd never heard any of them before. And Christ, what songs they were. Amazing. Incredible. Ten times better than the old ones—which I'd hitherto found hard to beat. I wondered when Doug had had time to compose these. He wrote most of their stuff, and I'd last seen them perform about a month and a half ago. He must have had help to write all of those in so short a time. I knew he usually took a while to compose one, refining lyrics over and over. He never treated the process lightly.

And the performance itself…Well, Doug was always flamboyant; it was his trademark. Tonight, I swear, he never stopped moving. Pure energy in human form. He danced, he sauntered, he did cartwheels. His between-song monologues were hilarious. His singing voice surpassed anything I'd ever heard from him, rich and deep. It resonated in my body. The audience couldn't get enough. They loved him, and I understood why. No one, even the people who worked there, could take their eyes off the stage.

Except one. There, along the far edges of the crowd, was a man casually making his way toward the exit. By his stride and apparent lack of interest, he didn't find Nocturnal Admission as compelling as the rest of us. While this was intriguing enough to draw my own gaze from the band, his attire struck me even more strongly.

If GQ magazine had been around in the days of Victorian poets, he would have been their cover model. He wore beautifully tailored black slacks paired with a long, black coat, the tails of which almost touched the backs of his knees. Underneath the coat was a gorgeous, billowing white shirt that might have been silk. Whatever it was, it made me want to touch it and see how soft it was. Unlike Horatio, whose demonic wear had simply been out-of-date, this guy had taken the past and made it his own. His own hot historic couture. The kind the modern day "goth" movement so longed to achieve. He'd opened the first few buttons to reveal smooth, tanned skin. That skin tone paired with the glossy black hair that flowed halfway down his back made me think he must be of Middle Eastern or Indian descent.

When he reached the door leading out, he paused and turned toward the stage, watching the band for a few moments. A small, pleased smile played along his lips, and then he was gone.

Weird, I thought. I wondered who he was. Prospective agent maybe? Or perhaps just someone who didn't get down to this type of music. He had looked like the kind of guy who owned Chopin's complete works, after all.

I considered the man for a few more moments, then turned back toward the stage. The group was taking a momentary reprieve from their new stash and doing a cover of one of my favorite Nine Inch Nails songs. Nothing like hearing Trent Reznor's lyrics paired with a saxophone.

"I can't believe this," I told Seth later, moving to the back of our group so I could stand near him. Our friends were so hypnotized by what was onstage that Seth and I could actually talk without drawing attention. "It's…unbelievable."

"That it is," he agreed. "I take it this isn't the norm then?"


"No. Absolutely not. But I hope it becomes the norm. Jesus."

We fell silent then, our eyes and ears drawn back to the band. As we watched, however, Seth rested his hand on my back in a friendly, innocent gesture that made me promptly lose interest in the music. And that was saying something. The shirt I wore was hardly a shirt at all. It was a glittering tunic type thing that covered the front of me only, then tied behind my neck and once below my shoulder blades, thus letting his fingers stroke bare, exposed skin.

Less than a week ago, I'd been in a hotel room with a guy who'd massaged scented oil all over my body and then gone down on me in a way that left me gasping. And yet, I swear that didn't do as much for me as Seth's fingers on my bare skin did now. The rest of my body jolted to life, suddenly ravenous for more of him. When he trailed his fingertips down to my lower back, I could perfectly discern every place he had touched me and every place he hadn't, as though his fingers left scorch marks in my flesh. Magic fingers. Seductive fingers. My nerves pulsed hungrily, demanding I take action and give them more.

When his hand finally came to rest by my tailbone, right at the edge of my jeans, I murmured, "You can go lower if you want. "


"No," he returned. His voice seemed huskier than usual, holding an unfamiliar intensity. But it was laced with wistfulness too. "I really can't."


The audience whooped and demanded an encore when the show ended, which the band was only too happy to give— multiple times. Talk about stamina.

As I watched them wrap up the song and make their bows, an idea suddenly struck me. Excusing myself for the bathroom, I headed back in the direction of the dressing room. Once out of any passerby's eyesight, I turned invisible and slipped back into that room, still perplexed about that burning, crawling sensation.

It was gone. Everything felt perfectly normal in the room. Jackets and instrument cases lay in unceremonious heaps on the floor, and empty red plastic cups vied with overflowing ashtrays to cover up other flat surfaces. I paced around slowly, peering in corners, looking for something—anything—that would explain what I had felt. And again, I came up empty-handed. All was quiet and still. No person or creature waited to leap out, though I was pretty sure what I'd felt hadn't come from anything living. Yet, it also hadn't resembled any charm or enchanted object I knew of either. If anything, that tingle had felt like something in the middle: half sentient, half not. But that made no sense.

Returning to my friends, I saw them making preparations to leave. None of us could stop talking about the show. We separated and met up again at Doug's place for a post-show party he'd invited us to. I'd been to similar gigs of his but saw more people here than ever before. They packed the place. Alcohol and pot flowed like milk and honey, but I stopped after a couple shots since I had to open at work in the morning.

Through the smoky, decadent haze, the band worked the crowd like they'd done this sort of PR all their lives. They talked to everyone, charismatic and outgoing, though never too proud or conceited.

As this went on, Seth and I kept a respectable distance from each other in order to maintain the illusion we were nothing but friends. While I still believed that was a good idea, it sort of seemed like rubbing salt into open wounds. Bad enough we couldn't touch each other; now we couldn't talk either.

Alec found me at some point, attempting to resume the conversation we'd been having when Doug spirited me away. The drummer handed me a plastic cup.


"This guy over there knows how to make vodka gimlets," he said happily.


I sniffed the cup. It smelled like pure vodka. Probably a cheap kind at that.


"Thanks," I said, literally keeping it at arm's length.


Alec leaned against a nearby wall, propping his elbow against it to create a more enclosed sense of space between us. "So, did you like the show?"


"Yes. Absolutely. You guys were amazing."


His chest puffed up with pride. "Thanks. We've been working really hard. We've got some other big shows coming up soon—I hope you'll come see us."


"I will if I can. I seem to be working a lot lately."


"Over at that bookstore with Doug? I can't figure that out. Neither of you seem like that type. Especially you. You look like someone with a wild side. Someone who likes to party. "


I kept my smile up and took a step back. "Sure. Just not on school nights, you know?"

Ignoring what I thought were obvious "back off" signs, he took a step toward me with a smile he probably believed was seductive. His clumsy attempts at flirtation suddenly seemed less endearing. "Come on," he laughed. "Call in sick tomorrow. I know somewhere…somewhere we could go if you really wanted to have a good time. A more intense scene than this."

"No. I can't. Sorry. Um, thanks for the drink, but I've got to go ask Doug…uh, something about work. I'll see you around."

Clear disappointment flashed across Alec's face at my rejection, but he didn't push the matter as I made a hasty retreat toward Doug. When I found him, he and I didn't really discuss work, but we hashed out a number of other amusing topics, made more so by his increasing intoxication and the fact that he really did now have an entourage of groupies. It looked like he'd be getting lucky after all. If he was still running on the same energy tonight, he'd probably keep a bunch of them happy.

Finally, tired of the scene, I told him good-bye and found Seth on the other side of the room. Not surprisingly, he was by himself and not drinking. He'd been born without the small-talk gene, and I knew for a fact interacting with others at parties made him uncomfortable. I had teased him in the past that he might actually be pleasantly surprised if he just made an attempt at talking to new people. He wouldn't have any of it, however. He seemed fairly entertained by people-watching, eyes twinkling and lips quirked in a half-smile as if he were in on some kind of joke the rest of us didn't know about. I wouldn't have been surprised if he was logging all of this for future novels.

"Hey," I said.


He brightened upon seeing me. The twinkling eyes took on a warm, knowing look. Something inside of me heated and tightened. "Hey."


"I'm ready to go. You want to come over to my place?" He deserved it after the way I'd neglected him tonight.



We were discussing who would leave first when I looked across the room and saw Alec handing Casey a drink. She looked like she'd already had more than enough, and Alec was doing the same closing-in maneuver he'd tried on me.

"What's wrong?" asked Seth, seeing my frown.


"That new drummer. Alec. He hit on me earlier, and now he's moving in on Casey. I think he's one of those guys who thinks plying girls with liquor is the only way to get laid."

"Wait. I thought I was the only guy who knew that secret." I chastised him with a dry look before turning back to Alec and Casey. "I don't like it. I don't like him thinking he can do that to women."

"You don't even know he's thinking that. Besides, look around. Every guy here is trying to get laid. Alcohol is par for the course. Casey's old enough to know that."


"I'm going to go over there."


Seth gave me a warning glance. "She won't thank you for playing mother hen."


"Better she's mad at me than does something stupid."


"Thetis, don't—"


I'd already left him behind, weaving through the people as I honed in on my target.


"…look like someone who likes to party," Alec was saying as I approached.


"Hey," I said loudly, sort of wedging my way in between them.


They both turned to me in surprise. "Hi, Georgina. What's up?"


"I'm heading home," I told her. "Wondered if you wantedaride."


Casey smiled, glanced at Alec, then back to me. College-age, Casey was Hawaiian and Filipino, with high cheekbones and sleek black hair. Very pretty. "Thanks, but I'm gonna stay here for a while."


Alec looked very pleased with himself. I turned back to her.


"Okay, but can I ask you something real quick, Case?" I smiled sweetly at Alec. "It'll just take a minute."


I steered her away, catching her as she stumbled. Closer inspection revealed she'd been indulging in more than just alcohol.


"Casey," I told her, once we were out of earshot, "I don't think you should be hanging around with him. "


"Why not? He's a nice guy."


"I don't know about that. He just used the same pick-up lines on me. I think he's trying to get laid."


"Every guy here is trying to get laid. I know the game."


"Yeah, but—"

"Look," she said, "I appreciate the big sister thing, but I'm not stupid. I can handle this." A mischievous look crossed her face. "Besides, I never would have thought you would be the one preaching sexual caution."

Like I didn't know what that was a reference to. Damn O'Neill's libido. I made a face and attempted a few more logical pleas. She rejected them all, indulgence soon giving way to annoyance. By then, Alec hadn't been able to control himself. He came back over and put a possessive arm around her. She looked up at him adoringly, and I knew a lost cause when I saw one.

Seth and I met up back at my place, and he listened with admirable patience while I vented about men preying on women.


"Isn't that what you do though?" We were sitting on my living-room floor, setting up a game of Scrabble.


"I…no. It's not the same at all."


"How so?"


He held my eyes for a moment, and I finally looked away. "It just isn't. Do you want to go first?"


He let the matter drop. Another nice thing about being with a nonconfrontational guy.

I quickly discovered playing Scrabble with Seth was like playing Monopoly with Jerome. A losing battle from the first turn. Admittedly, my knowledge of more than two dozen languages gave me a large vocabulary, but I didn't craft or manipulate words on a regular basis. Seth was a master. He could study the board, spend a minute calculating, and then play some word that was not only worth tons of points but interesting too. Maize. Hexagon. Tawdry. Bisque.

That last one was just cruel.


Meanwhile, I was spelling words like as, lit, ill, and tee. And almost never on high-point spaces.


"Wait," he said. "That's not a word."


I looked down to where, in a moment of desperation, I'd played zixic on a triple-word-score space.


"Uh, sure it is."


"What's it mean?"


"It's sort of like…quixotic, but with more…"




I laughed out loud. I'd never heard him swear before.


"More zeal. Hence the z."


"Uh-huh. Use it in a sentence."


"Um…'You are a zixic writer.'"


"I don't believe this."


"That you're zixic?"

"That you're trying to cheat at Scrabble." He leaned back against my couch, shaking his head. "I mean, I was ready to accept the whole evil thing, but this is kind of extreme. "
"Hey, it's not cheating. Just because your limited vocabulary doesn't include this word doesn't mean there's anything sinister going on."

"Care to back that up with a dictionary?"


"Hey," I said haughtily, "I don't appreciate your zixistic tone."


"If you weren't such a zixy woman, I'd be angry."


"Your zixicism is infuriating."

The game forgotten, we spent the next twenty minutes coming up with as many zix variations as we could. Interestingly, it seemed to function just as well as a suffix as a prefix. I suspected that if Bastien had heard this conversation, I'd be accused of more boring geekiness.

Seth and I finally went to bed on the verge of hysterics, both of us still giggling once we were wrapped up in my covers.


"You smell good," I told him, my face close to his neck. "What cologne is that?"


He stifled a yawn. "I don't wear cologne. Too strong."


"You must." I pressed my face closer.


"Hey, be careful. You're giving me funny ideas."

He had skin and sweat smells unique to him and him alone, deliriously delicious. With that, however, was a faint scent of something else. Almost like apples, but not in a girly, boutique sort of way. It was fleeting and lovely, mingled with musk and soft leather.

"No, it's something. You must. Is it your deodorant?"


"Oh," he mumbled, yawning again. "I bet it's this soap Andrea and Terry got me. Came as part of some set."


"Mmm. It's perfect." It made me want to eat his neck— among other things. "You know, you still owe me pancakes. I think I could go for…apple cinnamon ones now. "


"Apple cinnamon? You sure are demanding."


"It's all right. I think you're man enough for it."


"Thetis, if I actually believed you had either apples or cinnamon in your kitchen, I'd make them for you right now."


I didn't answer. I was pretty sure I had some year-old Apple Jacks, but that was about it.

Seth gave a low laugh at my silence and then kissed my temple. "I don't know how anyone could think you wereGenevieve.I couldn't make up someone like you in a thousand years."
I considered that, not entirely sure if it was a compliment or not. "How do you come up with your characters then?"

He laughed again. "If I didn't know any better—and I'm sure I do—I'd say that sounds suspiciously like 'Where do you get your ideas from?'"


I blushed in the darkness. When he and I had first met, I'd taken a haughty high ground over that question, making fun of the fans that so often asked him that.


"Hey, it's a totally different question."


I could sense his amusement as he contemplated an answer. Part of the reason he stumbled in conversation sometimes was because he didn't like to blurt things out. He chose his words carefully.


"They come from my head, I guess. The stories too. They live there, screaming to get out. If I didn't write them down, they'd eat me up. Give me less of a grip on the real world than I already have."


"Not that I'm complaining…but, if there's so much inside, do you even need to care about the real world?"

"Well, that's the paradox. The stories are born in my head, but my inner self is fueled by my outer self. Symbiotic relationship of sorts. The stories' ideas wouldn't come if I didn't have experiences to draw on. Jealousy. Love. Lust. Anger. Heartache. All that stuff."

Something pulled inside of me. "You had your heart broken much?"


He paused. "Of course. Everyone does. Part of life."


"Tell me her name. I'll kick her ass. I don't want anyone hurting you."

He rested his face against my hair, his tone even and gentle when he spoke. "You're wondrous and powerful and gifted, but even you can't save me from hurting. No one can do that for anyone. I can make things perfect in the fictions I create, but the real world isn't so kind. That's just how it is. And anyway, for every bad thing in life, there are more good things to tip the balance."

"Like what?"


"Like little blonde nieces. And royalty checks. And you."


I sighed and relaxed into him. His grip on me shifted into something more comfortable, and in a few minutes he was asleep. Amazing.

I lay snuggled with him for a while, but sleep proved more elusive for me this time, as I turned over his words. I thought about someone breaking his heart and wondered if I'd be the next culprit, intentionally or otherwise.

When sleep came, I immediately dropped into a steamy dream in which Seth and I were having mad, passionate sex. He'd tied my hands to my bedposts, and naturally, he was huge. Each thrust made my headboard bang against the wall, so much so that my neighbors complained.

I woke up with a start, suddenly thinking being so entwined with him wasn't such a great idea. Of course, I was apparently the only one who had a problem with it. Seth slept on peacefully and heavily, like I wasn't even there, no doubt having properly chaste dreams. A paradigm of virtue and resolve.

I watched him for a long time, admiring the way the soft lighting fell across his features. The fit muscles of his upper body. Eyelashes I wished I could have had as a mortal. Biting my lip, I resisted the urge to reach out and touch him. It was lust and something else, something that just wanted to be close to him. It scared me. Maybe he wasn't the only one who could walk away from this with a broken heart.

I wiggled my own weak self away to the other side of the bed, putting what space I could between us. As I lay there, my back to him, Aubrey jumped up and lay next to my stomach. I stroked her black-speckled white head and sighed.

"They were all wrong, Aub," I whispered. "There's at least one guy in this world not trying to get laid."