Succubus Heat CHAPTER 14
Instinct made me drive back to Queen Anne. I operated on autopilot, my mind blank. It was only when I’d parked and gotten out of the car that my senses slowly began to return to me. Still, I tried my best to stay numb, to not think about anything right away. My stomach was growling, so I decided to focus on basic needs. I walked over to a Thai restaurant between my apartment and the bookstore, seeking the comfort of a corner table and green curry. Once I was settled, there was no avoiding it.
What had happened back there? Part of me could still feel Greg’s hands on me, still feel the sickening sensation of being utterly and completely helpless. But the rest of me was slowly starting to analyze the stove exploding.
I’d noticed the gas stove upon my initial inspection, but I’d noticed no smell until right before it caught on fire. With gas leaks, didn’t a place usually fill up over time? This had been sudden. An out-of-the-blue surge of gas, and BAM! No warning, no anything. I supposed it could have been coincidence. Lucky timing. But in my world, coincidences didn’t happen. They were usually guided by a stronger power. The question was: who or what was responsible? I had too much to worry about now without some unseen arsonist on the scene.
“Why so pensive, Daughter of Lilith?”
I looked up from my half-eaten food. “Carter!”
I was pretty sure I’d never been so happy to see the angel in my life, except for maybe when he’d rescued me from Helena the crazy nephilim last fall. He wore the same clothes he’d had on in Vancouver. They appeared to stay in a perpetually consistent state of dishevelment-never getting worse, never getting better.
He slid into the chair opposite me. “You gonna finish that?” he asked, pointing at my plate.
I shook my head and slid the curry over to him. He immediately dug in, practically inhaling it. “What’s going on?” he asked between mouthfuls of rice.
“You know what’s going on. Seattle’s gone to hell. Literally.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed. How’s it feel to be footloose and fancy free?”
“It sucks. For some reason, my hair’s always frizzy. I used to style it myself before this happened, and it never did that.”
Carter grinned. “I doubt you were doing it all yourself. You may have still done all the labor, but some subconscious part of you was probably tweaking it just a little bit to keep it perfect.”
I pulled a face. “Well, even if that’s true, I’ve got a few bigger problems.”
I gave him a brief recap of my adventures this morning and what had happened with Greg. Even speaking about it still sent a chill down my spine. I expected Carter to laugh and make some quip at my expense, but his face stayed serious.
“You need to be careful,” he said gravely. “Everything’s different now. It’ll only be for a short time, true, but even if you can’t die, you’re still locked in a dangerous game.”
“We have to find Jerome. Do you know where he’s at?”
Carter shook his head. “Nope. He disappeared off our radars too. I don’t know anything more than you do.”
“You probably know more about demon summoning than I do,” I pointed out.
“Depends,” he said. “What do you know?”
“Pretty much what I already told you. Dante didn’t have much more to offer than who he thought could do it. And those other losers didn’t give up anything at all-except attitude.”
Carter flagged down a waitress and ordered a plate of panang curry and Thai iced coffee. Afterward, he tapped the table lightly with his finger, face drawn and thoughtful. “I can tell you how it’s done,” he said at last. “But I can’t do much more. This is your side’s business, not ours. We’re not supposed to interfere.”
“Dispensing information isn’t the same as interfering,” I said.
He smiled. “Depends on your definitions. And your people are great at finding loopholes and technicalities.”
“Yeah, but…Carter…” I sighed. “I don’t really have anyone else.”
Even if I’d had full succubus charisma going, I don’t think it would have worked on him. But I still had some sort of Georgina charisma that he was susceptible to. He liked me and was concerned about my life, even if he had a funny way of showing it sometimes.
The Thai iced coffee appeared, and he paused to take a drink. “Okay. Here’s how it works. Basically, a demon gets summoned into an object, and with enough magic, the demon becomes bound to that and is trapped. You’ve heard stories about genies, right? Well, they’re kind of variations on this principle. Humans who summon demons into objects can then occasionally release the demon and make them run errands.”
“But this one’s keeping Jerome locked up.”
“Right. Which makes it harder. What makes it harder still is that if this human has any sense at all, they’ve got the object hidden in a place of power.” He took another sip and waited for me to process this.
I knew what he was talking about. The earth was covered in places of power-sacred sites, ley lines, magic-infused spots. Anyone sifting through mythology would come across countless references to them and the roles they’d played in human history. There was just one problem with it.
“There are dozens of those in Seattle,” I said slowly.
Carter nodded. “Yup. And even if you find the right one, the power in that place is going to help mask the power coming from the bound demon. For you? Gonna be nearly impossible without your usual senses. You need another immortal to help, the stronger the better. Or possibly a human psychic.”
I groaned. “But you can’t help, and none of the demons will.” The panang curry arrived, and Carter devoured it with enthusiasm. “Putting that aside, let’s suppose I find this object, whatever it is. Then what?”
“Mmm, that’s hard too,” he said. “A greater immortal could just break it open.”
“But not me.” I was beginning to see how this worked, and it wasn’t encouraging.
“No, not even if you were in your normal state. The summoner probably put a lock on it-a seal. That’ll keep a lesser immortal out. The seal’s used in the binding, then it’s broken into two pieces that are kept separated for safekeeping. The practitioner most certainly keeps one. If he or she had a demon’s help, I’m guessing the demon has the other. Or else the practitioner would hide it.”
“Do you think another demon was involved?”
He swallowed. “Most definitely. If you can recover the pieces of the seal, though, then you could unlock the object and set Jerome free.”
When I’d first seen Carter standing over my table, I’d been filled with hope, convinced this miserable situation was going to resolve soon and we’d get Jerome back. Now? I was more pessimistic than before.
“So, let me get this straight. All I have to do is find this mystical object that Jerome’s locked in, an object I have no way of even sensing. Once I have it, I then simply have to force the pieces of the lock away from the summoner and a demon .”
“Yup,” said Carter, licking his fork. “That pretty much sums it up.”
“Well, the info’s good, but I can’t do anything. I have no leads on any part of this, nowhere to start.”
His gray eyes twinkled. “The seal has to be made of quartz.”
“Hand-carved by human hands.”
I raised an eyebrow, curious as to where this was going.
“By someone familiar with magic and runes.” He looked at me expectantly.
“How many people do you think that describes in the Seattle area?” He didn’t wait for me to finish. “Not many.”
Carter and his riddles. “You’re saying I should find who made the seal, in the hopes they can tell me who commissioned it.”
“Right. And they can also tell you what the seal’s specifics are. It’s almost always a disc about this big.” He used the fingers of one hand to make a circle about the size of a quarter. “But the color and designs will be different and provide clues as to what kind of place it’s been hidden in.”
“God, this is complicated.”
“You’re trying to find a demon that’s been captured and bound as part of a larger political power play, Georgina,” Carter said. “What do you expect?”
“Fair point,” I murmured. “I have one more question, though. It has nothing to do with the seal, though.”
“Why’d the stove at Greg’s blow up?”
“Because of a gas leak.”
“One that came on out of nowhere?”
He shrugged. “Compared to what we see every day? A lot stranger things happen.”
I eyed him for a moment, wondering if I should press him with my real question. He’d said he couldn’t directly interfere in this, but Carter had saved my life once before. His showing up here now was awfully coincidental…Was it possible he’d been following me all day? Had he helped expedite the stove’s incineration to save me? One might argue that touching Greg would have been direct interference…but harming the stove wouldn’t be, if you wanted to use demon-worthy technicalities. And, in a typically angelic way, Carter hadn’t actually denied his involvement.
I decided to let the matter go. If Carter was keeping his help a secret, there was a good reason. With a sigh, I glanced at the clock to my right. “Well, I’m still technically on leave, so I should probably take advantage of that and hunt down this seal maker.”
“Good luck,” said Carter. “But joking aside, I meant what I said earlier. You’ve got to be careful. At the very least, don’t do this stuff alone.”
“You sure you can’t break the rules and come with me, then?” I asked a bit wistfully.
“Nope, but why do you need me when there are plenty of other candidates?” With a grin, he nodded at something beyond me.
I glanced back and saw Seth standing at the take-out counter. I jerked my head back toward Carter.
Carter was gone.
Just then, the waitress set down the bill, which included Carter’s meal. “Fucking angels,” I muttered, fumbling for my credit card.
Turning back around, I studied Seth, feeling my stomach twist in that usual way. As though sensing me, he suddenly turned and made eye contact. Surprise registered on his face, and then he held up his hand in a hang on a second kind of way.
A few agonizing minutes later, he walked over to my table holding a take-out bag.
“Hey,” I said.
“Is that lunch?” I was suddenly embarrassed by the fact that I had two plates in front of me.
“Yeah, I’m actually heading home to work. The caf?¦ at the store’s too crowded and noisy.”
“I thought you could work through anything.”
He shook his head. “These days I’m more…distractible than usual.” His eyes studied me for a moment, and then he looked away. But in that moment, I’d felt a tingle run through my skin. Seth cleared his throat. “So…what about you?” He forced himself to look back at me. “You look…I don’t know. Uneasy. Not as bad as yesterday but still troubled. More immortal intrigue?”
A good portion of my present uneasiness was simply due to his proximity. “Yeah, afraid so.”
“So, you haven’t found Jerome yet, and you’re still…”
Now it was my turn to look away. “Yeah. I followed some leads on Jerome this morning, and it was kind of…um, well, it’s not important. Let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I didn’t find out anything anyway.” I glanced back in his direction, making sure I kept my eyes on his Blondie T-shirt and not his face. “I’ve got one more thing to check into, then I guess I can call it a day.”
“Well, that’s good, I guess.” He shifted uncomfortably, and that awkward tension that was so characteristic for us multiplied. I tried to think of something to say, but nothing came. “So…” he began at last. “I know what you said before…but I still have to ask. Is there anything…anything I can do?”
The retort was on my lips, to tell him I didn’t need him, not anymore. But an image of Greg flashed into my mind, and I hated myself for the fear it invoked. I didn’t want to be a damsel in distress. I didn’t want to live in fear and need a man to watch over me. Greg’s weight and element of surprise had shown that self-defense wouldn’t always work. Sometimes it was hard to face danger alone. Carter’s words repeated in my head: Why do you need me when there are plenty of other candidates?
I blurted out my question before I had time to reconsider. “Would you go with me?”
It was hard to say which of us was more surprised by this. “On…your errand?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. But I mean, if you’ve got stuff to do…”
“I’ll go,” he said quickly. He held up his take-out bag. “Can I eat in your car?”
“You can eat right now,” I said. “Seeing as I don’t know where we’re going yet.”
Leaving Seth to eat at the table, I stepped outside to make a couple of phone calls. The first was to Dante. He answered, fortunately, but had no clue about what I needed.
“Someone who carves crystal?” he asked incredulously. “I don’t do fluffy New Age stuff.”
“Yeah. I found out more about demon summoning. Apparently there’s some kind of seal involved that only a master artisan can make.”
“I don’t know anyone like that,” he said. “As much as it pains me to admit a lack of knowledge about anything.”
“Well, I guess even you have limits.”
“You are so in trouble for that the next time I see you, succubus.”
After we hung up, I tried Erik. He too answered, and in his usual way, he never bothered to ask why I needed the information. “There is someone,” he mused. “I’ve acquired crystal jewelry from her before, carved into assorted sacred symbols-ankhs and crosses. I don’t know if she works with the arcane or spellcraft, but she’s the only one I know in the area who comes close.”
I took down her name and address and went back inside. Seth had nearly finished his meal, rivaling Carter for speed. “Do we have a mission objective yet?”
I nodded. “Yup. Out to the hinterlands, even.”
Okay, Carnation wasn’t exactly the hinterlands, but it was well outside the Seattle urban and even suburban sprawl. It was one of several small rural communities that clung to western Washington’s edge before giving way to the wilderness of the Cascade Mountains and the desert on the other side.
I made a Starbucks stop along the way so that I could acquire some caffeine. It seemed requisite to get through this. When Seth asked me to order him a mocha Frappuccino, I nearly crashed into the drive-thru window.
“That’s got caffeine in it,” I said.
“I know. But they’re really good. Maddie got me hooked on them.”
We drove in utter silence for ten minutes after that. If not for Jerome’s summoning, I would have said this was the most astonishing thing to happen to me in the last twenty-four hours. Seth was drinking caffeine. It was unheard of. He’d abstained from it for years, and despite my clear addiction and coaxing throughout our relationship, he’d never shown any interest of cracking. Yet, Maddie- Maddie! -had somehow gotten him to change?
I don’t know why I took such offense at that. Honestly, it was an inconsequential thing in the greater scheme of the universe. Still…I couldn’t help feeling hurt. Well, maybe hurt wasn’t the right word. Inadequate, perhaps. She’d gotten him to do something I couldn’t. Why? Why her and not me? Was she more inspiring? Did he care about her more?
“Is something wrong?” Seth finally asked. My silence and death grip on the steering wheel had probably tipped him off.
“Nope,” I lied. “Just worried about all of this.”
“You are not.”
“I’m not worried about all this?”
“Okay, you are. But that’s not why you’re upset right now. You’re upset about this.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him wave the Frappuccino. After all this time, he still knew me.
“That’s stupid. Why would I care about that?”
He sighed. “Because I know you. You’re irritated that I did something I never said I’d do.”
“Why should I care?” I replied stiffly. “I’m happy you’re expanding your horizons.” The look he shot me told me he knew better.
We reached the address Erik had given me without further argument, largely because we didn’t talk. The house was an older rambler set on a huge yard that would have held an entire subdivision back in Seattle. Lawn ornaments-a deer and a gnome, to name a few-cluttered the grass, and wind chimes dangled on the porch.
We knocked on the door, and several moments later, a woman in her late forties or early fifties answered. She had hair dyed an unnatural shade of red that put me in mind of Tawny’s current hue. Her tight-fitting top pressed a lot of cleavage into her scoop neckline and was also not that far off from something Tawny might wear, albeit a little less tacky. The look the woman gave us wasn’t unfriendly so much as curious.
“Hi,” I said. “Are you Mary Wilt-“
” Oh my God! ” she squealed. She had just done a double-take on Seth. “You’re Seth Mortensen!”
Seth stiffened and exchanged looks with me. “Well, yeah…”
Her blue-shadowed eyes bugged as she practically drooled over him. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it! Seth Mortensen’s on my porch! I recognize you from your website. I look at it every day. Every day . Oh my God. Oh my God ! I’m your biggest fan. Come in!”
Seth looked like he wanted to bolt then and there, but I nudged him forward. This turn of events was a bit unexpected-and creepy-but could possibly work to our advantage.
We stepped through the doorway. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about the inside of her house. The d?¦cor was more modern than the outside suggested, all done in neutral shades. There was a bit of normal lived-in clutter and far more figurines than I found tasteful, but overall, it was a nice place. Some of the figurines were carved out of crystal, which I took as a good sign.
“Come in, come in,” Mary gushed, beckoning toward the living room. “Sit, sit! Can I get you anything? Iced tea? Coffee? Tequila?”
“Er, no. I’m fine,” said Seth, who was clearly becoming more and more uncomfortable with all of this. “Thank you.”
He and I sat down on the couch, and Mary sat in an armchair across from us, leaning forward in a way that afforded an ample view of her breasts. “What can I do for you?” she asked. “Are you here to buy something? I’d do anything for you. Anything .” She grinned at Seth, making her “anything” intentions obvious. “You’re so much cuter than I expected. Will you sign my books while you’re here? I own all of them.”
She gestured toward a set of shelves on the wall, and sure enough, Seth’s books stood out prominently. I had been a longtime fan girl of Seth’s before we started going out, and I wondered uneasily if I’d sounded this crazed and desperate way back when. She probably would have passed out if she’d known about the advanced copy Seth gave me.
“Sure,” said Seth. “I’d, um, be happy to.” He elbowed me, no doubt in an effort to get me to state our business and save him. Still a little irritated from our car argument, I almost enjoyed watching him in her clutches.
“We’re actually not here to buy anything,” I told her. “We wanted to find out about a piece you might have recently made for someone.”
Mary turned toward me, seeming to notice me for the first time. Her gleeful, ravenous expression dimmed and even turned a little suspicious. “Who are you again?”
“Georgina. We’re wondering if you recently made a piece for a client. A carved disc about this big with some sort of arcane symbol on it.” I approximated the size Carter had shown me.
Her face grew more wary and pinched. “I can’t say.”
I frowned. “You don’t remember?”
She shook her head. “I keep records of all my pieces. But that’s confidential. I can’t give that kind of information away.”
“This is really important,” I said. “We think…there may be a crime involved.”
“Sorry, Giselle. I can’t tell you about that. Not unless you’re with the police or something.”
“Georgina,” I corrected. Her adherence to client confidentiality was perfectly understandable-but well, I wasn’t really concerned with what was morally correct right now. Giving Seth an elbow poke of my own, I hoped he’d jump in and use his author god power. It took him a few moments, but he did.
“It would help us so much, Mary. We’d- I’d -really appreciate it.” He stumbled over the words a little, but from the way her face lit up, you’d think he’d just murmured the sexiest thing in her ear.
“Oh, Seth,” she sighed. “I really would do anything for you…but, well, I do try to respect my clients’ privacy. Surely a man like you understands that.”
“Well, yeah, of course I-” I elbowed him again. He shot me a quick glare and then returned his gaze to her. “That is, I do understand, but like I said, this is really important.”
Indecision warred on her face, and I kind of admired her principles. She actually looked uncrackable, and I had a feeling Seth wasn’t going to be too much more assertive. Glancing beyond her, I noticed a hallway leading off to another part of the house. I keep records of all my pieces .
“You’re right,” I said abruptly. “We can’t expect her to give out that kind of information. Right, Seth?”
He turned to me again, giving me a curious glance. “Right?” It was more of a question than an agreement.
Mary nearly melted in relief, her eyes all over Seth. “Oh, I knew you’d understand. I could tell right away that we think just alike. Kindred spirits and all that, you know? Just from the way you write I-“
“Hey, Mary?” I interrupted.
She looked over at me, again seeming astonished that I was still there.
“Do you have a bathroom I could use?”
“Bathroom?” she repeated, like it was a crazy concept.
“It was a long drive,” I explained sweetly. “Besides, that’ll give you and Seth a chance to get to know each other while he signs your books.”
Her face brightened again, and she turned to Seth without another glance for me. “Oh, sure! That’s a great idea, Georgia. It’s down the hall.”
I stood up. “Thanks.”
Seth and I made brief eye contact. There was a look of both panic and wariness. He didn’t want to be left alone. And he also knew I wouldn’t give up the fight so easily. He suspected that I was up to something.
He was right. I was about to go break into Mary’s records.