Succubus Dreams CHAPTER 13
“I’m really not a serial killer. It just seemed like too good a chance to pass up.”
“Man,” I said. “If I had a dime for every time I heard that…”
Liam, the guy who’d bought me at the auction, laughed and opened the car door for me. He drove a shiny black Lotus Elise that he’d had imported from the UK. I found that impressive. It appeared to have just been freshly washed. I found that impressive too – and a little sad since it looked like it was going to rain at any moment.
“It’s supposed to be really good, though,” he added, starting up the engine. “So, I hope you’ll like it and not think it’s too demented for the holidays.”
I hadn’t been keen on following up with my charity date, but I’d known it would have to happen sooner or later. When Liam had called earlier to say he’d gotten tickets to a dramatic production of three Edgar Allan Poe stories tonight, I figured it was as good a time as any to get it over with. Besides, I liked Poe. It was kind of a creepy date to have around the happiest time of the year, true, but that would be the theater’s fault, not Liam’s.
It was an early show, so we planned to attend first and catch dinner later. On the drive there, he turned out to be a lot like I’d expected. Intelligent. Nice. Moderately funny. He worked for an investment company downtown and had enough sense not to bore me with the details. We traded light banter, sharing anecdotes and experiences. I still would have rather been with Seth, but Liam was a fine guy for one night, and I figured he should have a fun time after donating so much money.
The play was about as twisted as I’d hoped. They started with “The Masque of the Red Death,” followed by “The Cask of Amontillado.” “The Tell-Tale Heart” closed the night off because honestly, what sort of Poe festivities would be complete without that crowd pleaser?
“I’ve never heard of ‘The Masque of the Red Death,'” Liam said afterwards. We’d decided to leave the car and walk the six blocks to the restaurant he had reservations at. “I read the others in high school. I guess it’s some kind of allegory about how you can’t escape death, huh? You can lock yourself away, but it doesn’t work.”
“More than an allegory, actually,” I mused. “Historically, that wasn’t an uncommon way for people to deal with plague and disease. Lock themselves up. Or else leave town and run away. Sometimes they’d throw the sick people out of town and lock the doors, so to speak.”
“That’s horrible,” said Liam. We stepped inside the restaurant, a small Italian one that was almost always booked. I had to admit, he was doing a good job with this date thing.
“People didn’t know any better,” I said. “They didn’t know what caused diseases, and aside from good hygiene and luck, there were few treatments for ancient and medieval epidemics.”
“That auctioneer didn’t say anything about you being a history buff,” he teased.
“Yeah? Would you not have bid?”
“Are you kidding? A beautiful woman who uses the words ‘ancient and medieval epidemics’ on the first date? I would have bid more.”
I grinned and let the maitre d’ lead us to our table. I was glad Liam appreciated my historical knowledge, but I’d have to be careful not to get too nerdy. I knew more than the average girl should and could get into levels of detail that modern people had no way of knowing about. I shifted to something else.
“Well, I think the auctioneer was kind of distracted by the other contestants.”
“Oh, you mean the feminazi who went before you?”
I frowned. “No, I mean the giant blonde in silver that he bid on.”
“Oh, yeah,” Liam agreed. “She was crazy. Attractive, but crazy.”
“You actually thought she was pretty?”
“Sure. Not as pretty as you, of course,” he hastily added, mistaking my meaning. “But the auctioneer apparently thought otherwise. He couldn’t keep his hands off of her.”
“Oh, come on. He barely touched her.”
“Well, not during the auction, of course. I mean afterward.”
I was interrupted when the waiter came by. I had to wait for Liam to order wine before he could finish the story.
“After the auction. I was there helping wrap things up. Deanna’s a friend of my ex-wife’s. When we all finished, Nick and that blonde were all over each other and left together.”
“That…that isn’t possible.”
Tawny had said they’d left separately. There was no way she and Nick could have been hot and heavy the night of the auction. The following night had been when she showed up for the dance lesson. Even if she was lying about things falling apart with Nick – and really, why would she? – she’d obviously had no recent energy fix. Massive shape-shifting, on the scale of nonhuman shapes, could burn through energy that quickly, but a new succubus wouldn’t have that skill yet. None of this made sense. Liam, obviously, didn’t catch my confusion.
“Why’s it so hard to believe?” he asked.
I shook my head. “It’s…never mind. I hope they had a great time. Now…what kind of wine did you order? I missed it.”
Not wanting to ruin dinner, I put the Tawny conundrum into a holding bin in my mind and did my best to give Liam his seventeen-hundred-dollars worth. When dinner ended, we walked back toward his car, enjoying a leisurely pace. The weather, though damp, had warmed to about fifty. Seattle’s fickle winters did that sometimes, only to freeze up a day or so later. When Liam slipped his hand into mine, I let him, but it presented me with a dilemma.
He was no one I really planned on seeing again. As a courtesy to Seth and an attempt at a normal life, I avoided casual affairs in this body. All of those reasons meant I shouldn’t let the night escalate into anything more than a friendly handshake good-bye. But suddenly, I was feeling the loss of my energy. It had felt so good to have Simon’s – yet it had been stripped from me before I could even do anything with it. It’d be so nice to have that feeling back, to go home with Liam and get what I needed.
When we reached his car, he kept holding my hand and turned me so that I faced him. “What now?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” I was still torn on what to do. “I’m open to suggestion.”
Liam smiled, a cute smile that showed in his blue eyes too. “Well, how about this?” He leaned down and kissed me, much as Dante had nearly done.
Oh, Liam. Liam was a good man. A good, good man. Seth caliber. The moment our lips touched, I felt the sweetness of his life energy trickling into me. My desire woke up, and I pressed myself to him. I might not like to use this body, but these were unusual circumstances. I made my decision. I’d sleep with him and part ways. He was a nice guy, not a psycho stalker. He might be disappointed, but he wouldn’t give me grief for wanting to be friends in the morning.
He kissed me harder, pushing me against the side of the car. All that energy from just one kiss. The sex was going to be great.
Yes, yes. More. Get more. Feed me.
I jerked away from Liam.
He looked down at me, legitimately concerned. “What’s the matter?”
It had been a whisper in my head. Faint but real. It had been paired with a longing, a deep longing for Liam’s energy that rivaled my own need – but it hadn’t been mine. It had belonged to someone – or something – else. Suddenly, it all came back to me. The conversations with Dante and Erik. Some creature preying on me and stealing my energy. True, it was what I did to men…but, well, I couldn’t help how I felt. And just then, I felt nauseous at the thought of some parasitic creature coming to me tonight because I was full of energy. It made my skin crawl. Bad enough this thing was using me. It was also using me to use Liam.
I looked back at him; he was so cute and so nice. I shook my head. I couldn’t do this. I needed the energy, but I was going to put if off as long as possible. I wouldn’t give this thing what it wanted.
“Liam…” I said slowly. “I should tell you something. I, um, just recently got out of a long relationship, and I went to the auction because I thought I could, you know…”
He sighed, not appearing angry so much as regretful. “You aren’t ready.”
I shook my head. “I’m really sorry. I wanted to help at the auction, and I thought I could move on.”
He squeezed the hand he was still holding and released it. “Well…I’m sad, but I understand. And I like you…if we went out, I’d like to work on something serious. That can’t happen until you’re ready, and I’d never want to force you.”
Oh, God. Nice, nice guy.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I said. I meant it. I so wanted his energy.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” he told me, smiling. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
He returned me to Queen Anne, and I kissed him on the cheek before leaving the car. He told me to call him when I was ready to date again, and I told him I would.
Once he was gone, I didn’t go inside. Instead, I called Dante.
“It’s your favorite succubus,” I said when he answered.
I heard him yawn. “Debatable. What do you want? It’s late.”
“I need to talk to you. Something weird happened.”
“I’m in bed, succubus. Unless you plan on joining me, I’d rather not receive visitors right now.”
“Please, Dante. It’s important.”
He sighed. “Fine, come on over.”
“I don’t know where you live.”
“Of course you do. You’ve been here a gazillion times.”
“You live in your store?”
“Why would I want to pay rent for two different places?”
I drove down to the shop. The sign read CLOSED, but there was a faint light inside. Dante opened the door when I knocked. He wore jeans and a plain T-shirt, nothing unusual, but the disheveled hair suggested he had indeed been in bed.
“Sorry,” I told him. “Maybe I should have waited.”
“Too late for regrets. Come on in.”
He led me through the storefront, back to the small door I usually saw closed. On the other side was a large room that appeared to be a combination living space, office, supply closet, and…workshop.
“Erik was right,” I said, walking over to a high set of shelves. They were filled with jars and bottles of herbs and unidentifiable liquids. “You are a magician.” I considered. “Or at least you’re pretending to be.”
“No faith in me. Probably smart.” He pointed to a bean bag chair and a plaid ottoman. “Take your pick if you don’t want the bed.”
I chose the ottoman. “Well, it’s not that I don’t trust you…but everything else you do is a scam. Of course, Erik has to hate you for something legitimate, and he wouldn’t have sent me to you in the first place if you didn’t have some kind of skill.”
“Interesting logic. Maybe he hates me for my charming personality.” He rubbed his eyes and yawned again. With the motion of his arm, I noticed faint punctures in the middle of his arm that I’d never seen with long sleeves.
“Maybe he hates you for your vices.”
Dante looked at where I was staring. He shrugged, unconcerned. “Nah, Lancaster has better things to worry about than a casual hit now and then.”
“From my experience, there’s no such thing as a casual hit.”
“What, are you here to do an intervention now, succubus?”
“No,” I admitted. I had neither time nor interest to reform Dante. “But I heard a voice tonight.”
“I heard a voice too. It called and woke me up.”
Angrily, I explained the situation. A hint of his sarcastic smile remained, but otherwise, he actually seemed concerned.
“Huh. Interesting. It actually raised its ugly head.”
“What do you think that means?”
“Not a clue until we know what it is. The only thing I can guess is that it was desperate for some reason. Until now, it’s done a pretty good job at hiding itself – aside from your energy loss, obviously.” He brightened a little. “I don’t suppose it’s here now, urging you to jump me?”
“Ah, well. I’m probably not as good a catch as Seventeen-hundred-dollar Man. Your predator has standards.”
I shuddered, hating the idea that I actually had a predator. I looked up at Dante and must have looked truly pathetic because a startled look crossed his features.
“Dante, you have to help me. I know we don’t have the answers yet…but, well, I’m scared of this thing. I can’t bring myself to take a victim because I’m afraid of this monster coming back. I don’t even want to go to sleep.”
His gray eyes assessed me, and to my astonishment, he almost looked gentle. It completely transformed him. “Ah, succubus. You can sleep tonight. No energy, no visit. I doubt the kiss was enough of a lure.”
“But eventually…eventually I’ll have to get another fix…and until I’m able to talk to Jerome about all this…”
“Well, I could maybe make you a charm or something. Protection to ward this thing away.”
“You can do that?” I tried to keep the skepticism out of my voice but failed. His face turned wry once more.
“If you don’t want the help…”
“No! I do. I’m sorry. That was wrong of me. I asked for your help, then backed off.”
“Well, as you said, I haven’t inspired much faith in you.”
“I’ll take whatever help I can get,” I said honestly.
He stood up and stretched, then walked over to his shelves, studying their contents. “You sure about that? You might not like what I have to do to make this. How badly do you want it?”
I thought about that voice, that creature’s need inside my head. “Pretty badly. Provided you don’t, like, give me a necklace made out of goat entrails, I think we’re good.”
His eyes were still on his shelves and jars. Several moments passed while he considered. “I’m going to need some time on this, I’m afraid. It’d be a lot easier if I knew what it was we’re dealing with. Without that, I’ve got to try to make some sort of catch-all charm that may or may not work. The broad spectrum ones are always hard, too.”
“So nothing tonight.”
He strolled back over to me. “You’re fine tonight, remember? Of course, you’re welcome to stay here, and I’ll stay awake and make sure nothing happens to you.”
I couldn’t help a smile. “Just like Kayla.”
“My boyfriend’s niece…” I’d nearly forgotten about our weird conversation. “She said some funny things. But I don’t know if it was just kid imaginings or if she maybe has some kind of psychic ability.”
“Fine line with kids,” he said. “If she has any powers, I’m sure science and discipline will work them out of her. What’d she say?”
“She said that I was ‘magic.’ And that there were monsters in the air who got into people’s dreams.” When he didn’t respond, I exclaimed, “Do you think she could help with this?”
He shook his head. “No. If she is psychic or gifted or whatever, she’s too young and inexperienced to know what she’s perceiving to be of any real use.”
“But she could be sensing what’s following me.”
“Sure. If she’s a really astute psychic, she’d be sensitive to anomalies in the magical and spiritual worlds.”
Interesting. Tiny little Kayla, possibly with the potential for great spiritual powers some day. “What’s your advice?”
“Huh?” he asked.
“For someone like her. To develop her abilities and make sure science and discipline don’t beat it out of her.”
“My advice?” He gave a harsh laugh. “Let them beat it out of her. You’ll be doing her a favor.”
I sat quietly for a long time, studying my feet. When I finally looked back up at him, I asked, “Why are you so unhappy?”
“Who says I’m unhappy? I make money by doing nothing.”
I gestured around. “Everything says you’re unhappy. Your attitude. Your arm. The pile of beer bottles over there. The fact that even though you claim I annoy you, you keep helping me and always seem glad to have me around.”
“Misery loves company. You aren’t exactly all that chipper yourself.”
“I’m very happy with my life,” I argued.
“Well, then, go back to it, and let me sleep.” In a not too subtle signal, he walked over to the door and opened it. “I’ll work on your charm and get back to you.”
I started to snap back at the abrupt dismissal, but he looked so weary, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Besides, I knew I’d been right. Dante Moriarty was a very unhappy man who used sarcasm and substances to hide it. I wondered what it was that plagued him so much – what it was that had darkened his soul.
“Are you ever going to tell me why Erik hates you so much?” I asked quietly.
Dante pointed at the door. “Good night, succubus. Sweet dreams.”