Succubus on Top CHAPTER 14
I wasn’t prepared for Dana to answer Bastien’s door the next day.
Oh my God, I thought. He finally slept with her.
The truth turned out to be far less exciting. Bastien – as Mitch – was covered up to his elbows in flour, his hands busily kneading a medium-sized lump of dough.
“Hey Tabby Cat,” he said upon seeing me and my startled expression. “Dana’s teaching me to bake bread.”
“Wow,” I said. Really, there was no other way to respond to a statement like that.
I had personally seen Bastien make bread in far more primitive conditions, but he apparently believed the old teacher-student routine was going to pave the way to Dana’s bed for him now. It did have its merits, of course. Human nature liked showing superiority in areas of expertise, and a teaching relationship provided lots of alone time together. I suspected that even with that tactic, Dana might still be out of reach, but hey, maybe it was worth a shot. The fact that she actually made time for this struck me as odd. I figured she’d be too busy bombing abortion clinics and handing out school uniforms.
Speaking of alone time, I worried that I’d blundered into some meaningful opportunity for the incubus. I met his eyes.
“I can come back later if it’s a bad time,” I told him.
“No, no. Dana’s got to go to a meeting soon. You can keep me company once this baby’s in the oven.”
His tone was genuine. He’d probably already exhausted efforts to get her to stay.
Uneasy in her presence, I sat on one of the stools by the counter and sipped the white-chocolate mocha I’d picked up on my way over. Dana sat down beside me. I resisted the urge to move away. Glancing at his kitchen table, I saw stacks of CPFV pamphlets and brochures.
“Why the interest in cooking?” I asked blandly when no one said anything.
“A bachelor can’t live on fast food and frozen dinners forever, huh?” He turned up the dial on his smile. “And hey, I’m always open to new experiences. Next time she’s going to teach me to make creme brulee.”
I grunted. “You learn to makecreme brulee, and I might have to move in.”
Dana turned to me, elegantly crossing her legs, showing that oh-so-wholesome slip obtained during the infamous shopping trip. I’d given up on slips a while ago. They just delayed the main event. “I could show you too.”
Hell no. I’d gotten roped into yard work by pursuing a similar vein of conversation with Jody. No more domestic vices for me. Besides, I knew Bastien wouldn’t welcome my presence.
“Thanks, but I’ll just leave it to Mitch. He’s the brilliant one in this family anyway.”
Bastien gave the bread a final pat. “Okay, now what?”
“Now we put it in the pan.”
She walked over to show him. As she did, he leaned in extra close, supposedly to get a better look. He even reached out his hand to brush hers, following her motions as they transferred the bread. Perhaps it would have been polite to look away, but there was nothing overtly romantic going on, and besides, I felt a professional interest in the matter. Histechniquewas good, I had to admit. Very subtle. Nothing that could be misconstrued as more than a polite accident. Yet, I saw Dana – just as subtly – stiffen and step away once the bread was in its pan.
“Now you just let it rise,” she said, in a somewhat cooler tone. “Then it goes in the oven.”
Interesting. She hadn’t liked Bastien’s proximity. That didn’t bode well for him. I didn’t think he noticed, however.
I would have expected her to leave, but she sat down next to me again. I could never think of anything interesting to say around her; she unnerved me too much. So I let the two of them talk, answering only when spoken to and otherwise letting Bastien run the show. He positively glowed. Dana tried to draw me in a number of times, again asking me things about my life I really didn’t want to answer.
When she finally rose to go, she commented, “I’m off to a board meeting to plan our upcoming rally against gay marriage. You two should join us when it happens.”
“Absolutely,” said Bastien, who probably would have agreed to an anti-incubus rally at this point.
She glanced over at me. My tongue suddenly felt thick, words again eluding me.
“Are you for gay marriage?” she asked with surprise. “I thought when we talked about this at the mall, you had implied you were more in favor of helping them see the error of their ways.”
Christ. Had we discussed this on the mall trip? I couldn’t remember. The only thing I recalled clearly was the lingerie debacle.
I wanted to argue right then that I didn’t think homosexuality was a “choice” for all people, nor did I believe there should be laws about who people loved. Fortunately, my control switch was fully operational. That, combined with Bastien’s heavy gaze, made me redirect my answer and evade the question. “I’d love to go to the rally,” I said flatly. “It’ll depend on my schedule.”
She smiled thinly, made a few parting remarks, and then left.
I exhaled. “Sorry about that, Bas. I nearly choked up on you.”
“Not a problem. You recovered. Besides, I think things are turning around. I thought of it the last time she and Jody were over. This cooking thing is going to be what does it.” He peered into the oven at his now-baking bread before sitting at the kitchen table happily. “Can’t you see it? We’ll be like, I don’t know, baking a cake together, and I’ll say, ‘Why Dana, you have chocolate frosting on your cheek.’ Then she’ll say, ‘Will you get it off for me?’ Then I will, only I’ll lick it off – “
“Okay, just stop now, please. I get the picture. I really don’t want to hear about you two rolling around in cake batter.”
“You’ll have to once it’s on the evening news.”
I smiled, relieved to see him so cheered up after our last encounter. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I didn’t think the cooking lessons were making Dana quite as hot and heavy as he would have liked. If we were going to save Bastien from demonic wrath, I believed we needed a better understanding of what – if anything – turned that woman on. And I had the distasteful feeling that I would be a better agent for that particular piece of reconnaissance than he would be. One more thing to add to my list.
“So what’s new with you?”
“Oh, the usual. Another awkward physical encounter with Seth. Not nearly as big a deal as the last one, but still.”
Bastien shrugged. “Alas for mortal weakness.”
Dana left my mind as my own personal relations came to the forefront. “That’s the thing. Everyone’s been going on and on about how he wouldn’t be able to handle our relationship, but it’s not his weakness that’s the problem. It’s me. I’m the faulty piece here. Seth’s done exactly what he’s supposed to. He handles every horrible thing I tell him about myself, and he never does anything to cross the sexual line. His one moment of weakness was when I initiated things. He’s perfect.”
“Nobody’s perfect, Fleur .If there’s anything I feel certain of in this world, it’s that. Even the angels themselves are imperfect.”
I thought about Carter’s chain-smoking and penchant for hard liquor. “That’s for damned sure. But Seth comes pretty close. At least as mortals go. Whereas me…I don’t know. I feel so useless in our relationship.”
He stood up and drew me to him. “What is this, your day to feel melodramatic and depressed? Look. No way are you useless – not if you’ve been with him this long. He’s in it for more than sex. He’s in it for you. For that delightful wit and charm that manages to cheer even grumpy bastards like me up. What I can’t figure out is what the hell you’re getting out of it.”
“Plenty,” I said, thinking of Seth’s humor and intelligence, his serious and steady nature. “And I suppose he’s happy with what he’s got, but he must still, you know, feel unfulfilled. He’s a man, right? I see him looking at me sometimes, and I know what he’s thinking…what he wants.” I thought about my toe-teasing. “I don’t think I really make it easy on him either. I flirt without thinking about it. I wish I could give him, I don’t know, something. Something nonlethal to reward his amazing celibate strength – and overall amazingness with everything that’s happened so far. “
“Nonlethal’s going to be hard for you. You’re the ultimate look-don’t-touch girl.”
My slumping head shot up. “That’s it.”
“Looking without touching. You’re going to help me.” I felt my natural optimism and vigor seizing me as I flashed the incubus a saucy grin. “You’re going to be my photographer.”
His eyebrows rose, but I think he already knew where I was going with this. “And pray tell, what will I be photographing, my dear?”
“Me. In a bevy of alluring poses and skimpy underwear. Or nothing at all. We’ll do a whole spread.”
His smile twitched at the word spread. “And you think this will help him? All it’ll do is drive him into the bathroom alone for ten hours.”
“Hey, he can do whatever he wants with them, but it’s a great idea. It’ll be a treat. A safe way of having me without having me.” I poked the incubus in the arm. “You’ll help, won’t you? You’re the only person I trust to take these.”
“Of course I’ll help you. Why’d you even ask?”
I sighed happily, like a great load had been taken off of me. “Of course, even if this is good for Seth, it doesn’t solve the problem of me being a weak-willed strumpet. I’ll still be thinking about him all the time. Still wondering what it’d be like to touch – really touch – him. Still breaking down with him in moments of weakness.” I sighed again, this time with frustration. “There’s no helping me, I guess. Pictures of him won’t do it.”
“Hey,” said Bastien, touching my chin. “Smile again. You’ll figure out something. And if not, I promise you I will. The brother you never had, remember? We’re here for each other, n,est-ce pas ?”
I smiled and leaned my head against his chest. “Oui.”
We stayed like that for a few pleasant minutes until I remembered far less sentimental issues. I sat up.
“Oh, hey, you have got to check something out.”
I picked up my purse and pulled out the bag of crystals Alec had given me. Bastien recoiled when I held them out to him.
“What the hell are those?”
“That’s the million-dollar question. These are what’s causing my friend at the bookstore to act so weird.”
Regaining his composure, he leaned in to look closer but wouldn’t touch the bag. “They’re strange,” he said slowly. “They give off something…”
“Like an immortal signature,” I agreed. “But I’ve never felt an inanimate object that did this. It’s not the same as an enchantment.”
“It doesn’t feel bad exactly…just not right.”
“I asked Seth about it. Mortals don’t feel anything, only us. Ever come across anything like this?”
“No, but then I’m the novice next to you, right?”
I slid the crystals back into my purse, to the relief of both of us, and then explained what Alec had said about mixing them in liquid.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” mused Bastien. “Not like any drug I know, but it’s not giving off any legitimate potion vibes either. If you want to know what this is, Fleur ,you’re going to have to break out the big guns.”
I knew he was right. We hung out together a while longer, moving on to less weird subjects. The bread smelled so good cooking that there was no way I could leave until I’d tried a piece. Upon tasting it, I decided that whatever her other faults, Dana knew what she was doing with food. I ended up getting away with a good half loaf of the bread and then drove back downtown to find the “big guns.”
I got a lucky break, and Jerome actually answered his cell phone and gave me his location. Even if he hadn’t, it would have been on my list of places to try. The Cellar was an old, dark pub in Pioneer Square, Seattle’s historic district. You had to take a flight of stairs down to get to the Cellar, and I always had the feeling the place wouldn’t survive the Northwest’s next big earthquake. The Cellar was one of Jerome and Carter’s favorite haunts.
I found them both there in their usual corner. The place was dark, as always, and was starting to pick up a little with happy-hour traffic. Angel and demon watched me enter with their typically amused expressions, both having sensed me before I cleared the door. Jerome always gave the impression over the phone that I was taking up his time, but neither seemed particularly busy now. I ordered a gimlet at the bar, smiling at the two guys who made conversation while I waited, and then moved on to join the dynamic duo.
“A working lunch?” I asked, inclining my head at the empty shot glasses in front of them. The two practically sat side by side, so the only other chair was across from them, like I was at an interview.
Carter picked up one of the empty glasses and offered me a mock toast. I clinked my glass with his. “Don’t question the divine workings of the universe, Daughter of Lilith. “
“The Lord’s work is never done,” added Jerome solemnly.
They both seemed a little loopy, but I wasn’t fooled. Higher immortals like angels and demons could control their levels of intoxication. The other lesser immortals and I had said a number of stupid things in front of them when we thought either Jerome or Carter had been wasted. Their eyes held a shrewd scrutiny even now that told me they were both curious about why I’d sought out my supervisor in the middle of the day.
“Been to see the incubus?” Jerome asked a moment later.
I nodded. “He thinks he’s making progress.”
“Thinks?” asked the demon, raising one eyebrow. I wondered if John Cusack could actually do that. “Is there a doubt?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you also didn’t say that he is making progress.”
“A slip of the tongue. I misspoke.”
“You don’t misspeak often, Georgie. And I’ve come to actually believe you do know something about seduction after all. And maybe even human nature.”
Carter laughed at my incredulous tone.
“So,” continued Jerome, “in your expert opinion, is your friend going to be able to do this or not?”
I was about to say “of course,” but knew Carter would recognize the lie. Hell, even Jerome probably would. “I don’t know. She’s hard to read. Very strange woman.” I pursed my lips, thinking. “If anyone is capable of seducing her, though, it’ll be him. With my help.” I hesitated before adding, “You know about the Barton thing, don’t you?”
“Of course. Very foolish on Bastien’s part.”
“I guess.” I didn’t want to slam one of my best friends in this company. “But it’s not like our side is really known for impulse control. And it seems kind of stupid for Barton to get so worked up over a woman who sleeps around all the time anyway. What’s one more person, immortal or not?”
“Because the immortal meant something,” said Carter seriously. “You of all people should recognize the nuances here. What would Seth think if you slept with me?”
“Are you offering?” I turned to Jerome, feigning excitement. “I get to retire if I bag an angel, right? Full pension and everything?”
“Depends on the angel,” yawned Jerome.
Carter kept his complacent smile, unfazed by jokes about his celibacy or immortal standing. “You know what I mean. There’s a difference between business and choice.”
I nodded. I did know what he meant, and he was right – being with Seth made me especially cognizant of the subtleties.
“You know, I didn’t come here to discuss this,” I told them. Both had the tendency to steer me off topic into subjects I didn’t want to explore.
“Well, do enlighten us then,” said the archdemon indulgently. “I’m dying to know what would draw you away from suburban conspiracy and mortal intrigue in the middle of the day.”
“Actually, it involves mortal intrigue.”
I gave them a debriefing on the Doug situation. Jerome maintained his perpetual look of disinterest. Carter almost did, but snide or not, he was still an angel, and I saw compassion flicker in his eyes as I spoke. He couldn’t help it.
“So, I finally managed to get Alec to give me the stuff, and now I need to know what it is. You two seemed like my best shots at identification. “
Jerome’s disinterest turned to astonishment. “This is what we’ve been reduced to? Drug identification? Do we look like the DEA?”
Carter stretched lazily. “Remember the good old days when succubi used to want our help defending them from nephilim and other lethal creatures? This is a sign of the times, I tell you. “
I let them have a good laugh at my expense, forcing myself to stay calm and not say something that would get me into trouble.
“Are you guys done?” I asked a minute later. “Because I’d really like to get moving on this.”
“Are you going to share some of it with us if we can tell you what it is?” asked Jerome.
Rolling my eyes, I reached into my purse. With a flourish, I tossed the little bag out onto the table so it slid across the surface and came to rest just in front of both of them.
Their smiles disappeared.
They stared at the bag for a moment and then – in almost perfect synchronization – looked at each other and back to me.
When Carter spoke, he was amused, but grimly amused. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to rule out supernatural monsters after all.”
“How,” exclaimed Jerome, nostrils flaring, “do you always manage to get yourself mixed up in the middle of this shit?”
I looked back and forth between the two of them. “What? What is it?”
“This, Georgina,” announced Carter, tapping the bag with his finger, “is the Food of the Gods.”