City of Demons (Georgina Kincaid #2.5) by Richelle Mead
There is a time and a place for a skimpy white nightgown. A misty island in the middle of winter is not one of them, but I’d certainly done stupider things to get a guy’s attention.
“Hey,” I yelled for the third time. I leaned one hip against the doorway, hoping to offer a better view of my figure. “You’re going to freeze to death out there.”
The man I addressed was sitting back in a lawn chair, posture easy and relaxed, with his long legs propped up and a laptop balanced in front of him. In the distance, early morning fog hung across the still water, nearly obscuring the dark shapes of other islands. After several more moments, Seth Mortensen—who dubiously carried the title of my boyfriend—slowly looked up from the screen and focused on me. Soft sunlight glinted on his brown hair, giving it a slight coppery glow.
“I don’t know,” he said thoughtfully, eyes lingering on my chest. “You look like you’re the one who’s freezing.”
I petulantly crossed my arms, careful to leave my breasts and their attention-seeking nipples visible. “Are you coming inside or not?”
“I have a coat. I’m fine.”
“You promised me breakfast.”
“I just need another half-hour to finish this chapter.”
“That’s what you said a half-hour ago.”
“I mean it this time.” He looked back down. I was losing him. Damn it. This nightgown was one of my best. “Half-hour.”
“Fine,” I snapped. “Take all the time you want. I don’t care. I’m going to go take a shower. A really long, slow, and sensuous shower.”
“With lots of hot water and soap to make sure I get every inch of me clean. I’ll probably have to do a lot of rubbing.”
With a huff, I spun around and went back inside the bedroom, slamming the door loudly behind me. The cottage we were renting on Orcas Island only had this one bedroom, and it was small, with a messy, quilt-covered bed taking up most of the space. The front of the house had a kitchen smaller than my closet at home, and the bathroom here was tinier still. But this place had been ours for the weekend, and it was cozy and quiet and romantic. The kind of place you and your beloved could go to escape the world. To grow emotionally closer. To have mad, passionate, backbreaking sex.
If, of course, you could actually have sex with said beloved person without dire, soulaltering consequences.
With a sigh, I turned on the shower and waited for the water to heat up. I tossed my nightgown onto the bed and paced around naked, pondering not for the first time how an awardwinning succubus could be so ineffectual—especially around a guy that was allegedly in love with me. Of course, the fact that said guy and I couldn’t touch in any meaningful way kind of made things difficult. Being a succubus meant I was immortal and could shape-shift into any form I chose. The cost of that was that I had to steal energy and life from other people—through sex. So, yeah, that sort of put a damper on our romantic escapade here since I refused to consummate our love and shorten his life.
Halfway through my shower, the curtain jerked open. I yelped and saw Seth standing outside. He still had that same casual posture, but there was a glint of something very warm and very male in his brown eyes as he surveyed me.
“After writing white nightgown ten times, I decided it was time to quit.”
“Well. You’re too late. I took it off.”
“I can see that.” He didn’t sound disappointed.
With deliberate slowness, I let my slick hands run down my body, wiping away the last of the soap. His eyes followed. Then, with feigned haughtiness, I snapped the curtain closed in front of him.
“Go away. I need another half-hour.”
He opened the curtain right up again and reached into the tiny stall to shut the water off, oblivious to his own clothes getting wet. “You’re done.”
I pointed to the towel hanging on the bar. “Look, you’ve displeased me this morning. Immensely. But, if you apologize profusely and beg my forgiveness, I might let you dry me off. Might.”
A wicked, playful look shone in his eyes, and I loved it. Seth was normally pretty shy and introverted. Seeing his dark and passionate side surface was always a treat. He grabbed the towel and stepped back, waving it tauntingly, like a matador.
“You aren’t the one making demands here, Thetis.” Thetis was his nickname for me, in honor of a shape-shifting nymph from Greek mythology. “If you beg, then I might let you have the towel.”
“What kind of a threat is that? I can just shape-shift—”
“Is this a bad time, Georgie?”
My mouth clamped shut as I stared beyond Seth. There, standing on the other side of the small bathroom, was my boss. Jerome was a demon— arch demon, in fact—who controlled all hellish activities in the greater Seattle area. He also looked like…well, John Cusack. Seriously—if you gave him a boom box to hold over his head, he would have been a dead ringer for the star of Say Anything. Out of instinct, I wrapped my arms ineffectually around my nakedness. It was very Garden of Eden.
“Please,” Jerome said, rolling his eyes. “You have no idea how uninterested I am in your body.”
Seth meanwhile had noticed my deer-in-the-headlights expression. He looked at me, glanced back to where I stared, and then turned back to me. “What’s wrong?”
Jerome was invisible to mortal eyes. Only I could see—or hear—him.
“So what are you doing here then if you aren’t spying?” I demanded. Seth opened his mouth to say something else, and I waved him off with my hand. He stayed quiet, suddenly realizing something immortal was afoot.
Jerome pulled a large manila envelope out of his black suit jacket. “I’m here to give you your plane ticket.”
“You’re going to Los Angeles for me.”
“Am I?” I attempted a little cockiness, but mostly I sounded confused. Because I was.
“Yes,” he replied. “I was summoned for a tribunal. You’re going to go in my place.”
“What kind of tribunal?”
He waved his hands in a dismissive gesture. “Fuck if I know. Some duel. A demon got destroyed or some such idiocy, and they’re having a hearing to figure out who did it.”
I fell silent, processing the implications of what he was saying. “So…what? You got jury duty and you’re pushing it off on me?”
“I’m reminding you that you work for me. And I’m telling you that you’re going to Los Angeles.”
More moments of silence. “They summoned you,” I argued. “They aren’t going to use me instead.”
“They will. Hugh filed the paperwork this morning.” The demon tapped the envelope, indicating the appropriate forms were inside.
“Why? Why me?” I asked.
“Because I have better things to do. And you always seem to be so interested in other people’s business.” He paused, face suddenly thoughtful. “And you might actually have something useful to offer.”
That last sentence piqued my curiosity, but I didn’t pursue it. “When am I supposed to go?”
Jerome’s dark eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry, Georgie. It almost sounded like you were defying me.”
“I was. I can’t go. Not tonight.” I threw my hands up, indicating the cottage as a whole.
“We have this for the entire weekend. It wasn’t cheap.”
He closed his eyes, and I had the distinct impression he was counting to ten. Jerome holding his temper was a rare thing. This might be a more serious affair than I realized. Meanwhile, Seth was simply watching and listening, no doubt trying to parse what was going on based on only hearing one side of the conversation.
Jerome’s eyes opened. “Your weekend in a shit cottage on a shit island is none of my concern.”
“I see,” I said angrily. “So, it’s okay for you to inconvenience me so long as it’s convenient to you.”
“No. I’ve done a lot for you lately. You owe me.”
“I owe you nothing, Georgie. You’re an unruly employee, and you’re lucky I tolerate you.”
That wasn’t entirely inaccurate. Not only did I feel guilty about sleeping with Seth, I also didn’t like to sleep with nice guys in general. They didn’t deserve to lose their life energy and get wiped out. Of course, those were exactly the kind of guys Hell wanted damned, so my employers didn’t appreciate me only going after corrupt men. I had “improved” recently for the sake of my career, but Jerome really had put up with a lot from me in the past.
“It’s not fair,” I growled.
Jerome snorted and spoke in a simpering voice. “Oh, oh. You’re right, Georgina. It isn’t fair. Thank you for helping me see the error of my ways.”
I glared. “You’re a real asshole, Jerome.”
“That,” he said seriously, “is the first reasonable thing you’ve said since I got here.” He tossed the envelope onto the toilet lid. Seth jumped as it became visible. “This is neither an option nor a request. You will go to L.A. tonight.”
Jerome turned, and I knew he was about to disappear. Anger and frustration flared inside me, mainly because there was nothing I could do. Suddenly, he stopped and sighed. He glanced back at me, annoyance all over him. A rectangular piece of white paper materialized in his hand. A plane ticket. He tossed it on top of the envelope.
“Take the human with you.”
After almost a minute of silence, Seth finally figured out that our visitor was gone. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said shaking my head to clear it. “I think so.”
Seth pointed to the papers. “What is that? What’s going on?”
I took the towel from him without challenge and wrapped it around me. “This trip’s about to take a different direction.”
“We’re going to the City of Angels.” I paused and reconsidered. “Or rather, the City of Demons.”
The great thing about Los Angeles, at least, was that it was warm. And when you were just starting December in Seattle…well, even smog and urban sprawl seemed like small sacrifices for sun and surf.
Our flight down was uneventful. Seth worked on his laptop. I browsed through the papers in the envelope, trying to figure out what I’d gotten myself into. When we’d landed and retrieved our baggage, I hailed our cab and gave the driver the address. Seth, still engrossed in whatever novel he was writing, didn’t pay much attention to the ride. So, he was kind of surprised when we arrived and he stepped out of the taxi.
“A Marriott?” he asked, looking up at the building in front of us.
“But…” He frowned and took a suitcase from the driver. Seth’s reticence in conversation usually came from a need to choose his words carefully. I could tell this particular moment called for special care. “You’re going to some kind of demonic council, right?”
“And it’s at a Marriott.”
Luggage in hand, we walked into the lobby. It was wide and round, with a faux marble floor and a huge, gaudy chandelier that looked shabby and cheap. I was willing to bet its sparkling shards were made of plastic, not crystal.
“Why not?” I returned. “They’ve got to hold it somewhere.”
“Yeah…but why not around a bonfire in the middle of the woods? Or at least a Masonic temple.”
I walked toward the desk and crooked him a grin. “No room service.”
Our room was nothing special, but that didn’t matter. I’d gone into this weekend wanting to spend time with Seth, and now we could have it. Sort of. In fact, depending on how long this absurd tribunal went, we could be spending a lot of time together. But, the trial didn’t start until tomorrow, so for now, it was just me and him. The thought filled me with happiness, and I was almost able to forget I was here against my will.
Feeling saucy, I patted the bed. “Want to break it in?”
Seth raised an eyebrow, and I immediately felt stupid. Of course we couldn’t break it in. The joke had risen to my lips without thinking. Suddenly, like that, the bubble of joy burst, and reality slammed into me. It didn’t matter if I was on a cold island or a queen-size bed with a plaid comforter. Seth and I could never reach the intimate levels we both craved. I don’t know why it hit me so hard just then, but that’s how it was. Sometimes I could deal with the hands-off nature of our relationship; sometimes it killed me. But, regardless, it was better than killing him.
Seth, noticing my mood change, smiled gently. The physical limitations we faced saddened him too, but he dealt with them with infinite patience. I’d told him he was welcome to get cheap sex anywhere since I was certainly busy myself with succubus “duties,” but he never took me up on the offer. He always said he wanted to be with me and me alone. He wouldn’t be budged. His strength continually amazed me.
Ignoring the awkwardness created by the joke, he shook his head. “I’m too tired to break it in. But you, Georgina…well, if you want to…”
The dangerous smile was back on his face, and I could feel a similar one coming onto my lips. We might not be able to touch each other without serious repercussions, but I could touch myself without any sort of loss.
And Seth…well, Seth loved to watch.