(Warning: spoilers from the last book)
Sleeping with my therapist was a bad idea.
I knew it too, but I couldn’t really help it. There were only so many times I could hear “Why don’t you explain that” and “Tell me how you feel.” So, I finally snapped and decided to show the guy how I felt. I’ve gotta say, for a decent guy who had never cheated on his wife, he wasn’t that hard to take advantage of. And by “not hard,” I mean “ridiculously easy.” His pseudo morals gave me a strong succubus energy fix, and when you consider that what we did was probably the most productive thing that ever took place on his couch, it was almost like I did a good deed.
Still, I knew my boss was going to be pissed, seeing as he was the one who’d ordered me to seek counseling in the first place.
“Do not tell Jerome,” I warned my friends, tapping my cigarette against the ashtray. “I don’t want to deal with that kind of fallout.”
My friends and I were sitting at a booth in Cold July, an industrial club down in Seattle’s Belltown district. The place was dark and loud, with crisscrossing pipes on the walls and ceiling forming the bulk of the décor. Because it was a private club, they didn’t have to adhere to the city’s public smoking ban, which was a perk for me. In the last few months, I’d found nicotine was one of the essential things helping me cope. Other things on the essential list: vodka, Nine Inch Nails, a steady supply of moral men, and an all-purpose bitchy attitude.
“Look, Georgina,” said my friend Hugh. He was an imp, a type of hellish legal assistant who bought souls for our masters and did assorted middle management tasks. He had dark cropped hair and was big without being fat. “I’m no expert in mental health, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that probably wasn’t a helpful step on the road to healing.”
I shrugged and let my eyes scan the crowded room for potential victims. There were some pretty good pickings here. “Well, he wasn’t that good. At therapy, I mean. Besides, I don’t think I need it anymore.”
Silence met me, in as much as silence could meet me in a place so noisy. I turned back to my friends. Hugh was making no pretense of hiding his you’re freaking crazy look. Our vampire friends, Peter and Cody, at least had the decency to avert their eyes. I narrowed mine and put out the cigarette.
“I don’t suppose,” said Peter at last, “that this is anybody you’d maybe, uh, like to date long term?”
“Yeah,” agreed Cody, eyes wide and hopeful. “I bet a therapist would be a great listener. And you wouldn’t even have to pay for it.”
“My insurance pays for it,” I snapped. “And I don’t really appreciate your passive aggressive attitude about my boyfriend.”
“It’s not that passive,” said Hugh. “You could do better, sweetie.”
“The guy’s corrupt and going to Hell. How is this a problem for you? And you didn’t like my last boyfriend either. Maybe you should stop worrying about my love life and go back to figuring out how to get your latest secretary into bed.”
In what had to be a weird twist of the universe, none of my friends liked my current boyfriend, a dark magician named Dante. Dante’s morals were pretty non-existent, and he owned stock in bitterness and cynicism. That would make you think he’d fit in perfectly with this group of damned souls, but for whatever reason, it didn’t.
“You aren’t meant to be with someone bad,” said Cody. We were all immortal now but were considered ‘lesser immortals.’ That meant we had once been human before selling our souls into Hell’s service. Cody was young compared to rest of us in our little circle. Hugh claimed almost a century. Peter and I had millennia. As such, there was almost a naivety about Cody, a charming idealism that rivaled the kind I used to have.
It had been shattered when my previous boyfriend, a human named Seth, had left me for a friend of mine. Seth was a good soul, quiet and infinitely kind. He’d made me believe in better things, like that maybe there was hope for a succubus like me. I’d thought I was in love—no, I had been in love. Even I could admit that. But being a succubus, I brought a dangerous element to any relationship. When I had sex with a guy (or a girl—it worked either way), I stole their life energy, which was the power that fueled every human soul. It kept me alive and sustained my immortal existence. The purer the guy, the more energy I took. The more energy I took, the more I shortened his life. With Dante, I had almost no effect. He had little energy to give, so our sex life was relatively “safe,” and I therefore sought my fixes from meaningless guys on the side.
With Seth…well, that had been a different story. Sleeping with him would have had very detrimental effects—so I’d refused to do it. For a while, we’d lived on love alone, our relationship being about a lot more than a physical act. Over time, however, that had taken its toll, as had a number of simple relationship complications. Things had finally blown up when Seth had slept with my friend Maddie. I think he’d done it to encourage me to break up, hoping to spare me future pain. Whatever the initial intent, he and Maddie had actually gone on to establish a fairly serious relationship in the following months.
I hadn’t taken that very well.
“There’s no pleasing you guys,” I growled, beckoning the waiter for another drink. He ignored me, irritating me further. “You don’t like good ones. You don’t like bad ones. What the hell does it take?”
A new voice suddenly cut into our circle. “Please tell me we’re discussing your romantic hijinks, Georgie. There’s nothing I enjoy more.”
There he was, standing beside our table: my boss Jerome, archdemon of Seattle and its greater metropolitan area. I glared. I didn’t appreciate the mocking tone—or him calling me Georgie. He sat down beside Hugh, and the waiter I’d been trying to summon dashed over immediately. We ordered a new round of drinks.
Jerome was clearly in a good mood today, which always made our lives easier. He had on a black designer suit, and his hair was styled exactly the same as John Cusack’s had been in a recent TV interview I watched. That probably bears mentioning: Jerome’s human body of choice was a clone of John Cusack. Succubi can change shape because that’s part of what helps us with seduction. Demons can change shape simply because—like angels—they’re insanely powerful beings who have been around since the beginning of time. They’re ‘greater immortals.’ Because of a weird fan obsession that he adamantly denied, Jerome chose to interact in the mortal world looking like the actor. The strange thing was that when we were out like this, humans never seemed to notice the resemblance.
“You haven’t been out with us in a while,” I pointed out, hoping to change the subject. “I thought you’ve been busy with demon stuff.” Rumor had it that Jerome was sparring with another demon, though none of us knew the details.
He took one of my cigarettes out of the pack without asking. A moment later, the end of the cigarette lit on its own. Showoff.
“Things have actually taken a pleasant turn,” he said. He inhaled deeply and then let the smoke swirl around him. “One less thing to deal with. I’d hoped the incessant babbling about your romantic woes was also going away, but I suppose that’s too much to hope for. Are you still with that charlatan?”
I threw up my hands. “Why does everyone hate Dante? You guys should be embracing him as a brother.”
Jerome considered, dark eyes thoughtful. “He annoys me. You can do better.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said.
“Maybe she’d see that if she’d stop doing stupid shit like sleeping with her therapist,” noted Hugh, in what was apparently supposed to be a helpful tone.
I turned on him, eyes wide. “Did you listen to anything I just said?”
“Plenty,” he said dryly.
Meanwhile, Jerome’s lazy, pleased expression disappeared. He fixed his gaze on me, eyes burning like flame yet inexplicably making me feel cold all over. He smashed the cigarette out and shot up from his seat. Grabbing my arm, he jerked me up from my own spot and started dragging me from the table.
“Come with me,” he hissed.
I stumbled with him out to the hall that led to the restrooms. Once out of the sight of others, he pushed me against a wall and leaned toward me, face filled with fury. It was a sign of his agitation that he was behaving like a human. He could have simply transported both of us to some isolated place.
“You screwed your therapist?” he exclaimed.
I gulped. “I wasn’t making much progress.”
“Why is this a problem? He was a good soul. I thought that was what you wanted me to do!”
“I wanted you to get this goddamned chip off your shoulder that you’ve had ever since that boring mortal dumped you.”
I flinched. It was kind of a weird thing. I’d been so depressed after the Seth breakup that Jerome had finally flipped out and told me to go seek help because he was tired of listening to me “bitch and moan.” The strangeness of a demon encouraging counseling for one of his employees wasn’t lost on me. But honestly, how could he understand? How could he understand what it was like to have your heart smashed? To be ripped from the person you loved most in the world? My whole existence had lost meaning, and eternity had seemed impossible to bear. For weeks, I wouldn’t go out or talk much to anybody. I’d isolated myself, lost in my own grief. That was when Jerome had thrown up his hands and demanded I snap out of it.
And I had, kind of. I’d swung the other way. I’d suddenly become angry—so, so angry at the way life had treated me. Some of my misfortunes were my own fault. But Seth? I didn’t know. I didn’t know what had happened there, and I felt wronged by the world and the lifetimes of hurt it kept giving me. So, I’d started getting back at it. I’d stopped caring. I’d thrown myself into full succubus mode: seeking out the most moral men I could, stealing their life, and breaking their hearts with little remorse. It helped with the pain. Sometimes.
“I’m doing what I’m supposed to!” I yelled. “I’m scoring soul after soul. You have nothing to complain about.”
“You have a bitchy attitude and keep picking fights with everyone—and you aren’t getting better. I’m tired of it. And I’m tired of you.”
I froze, my antagonism turning to pure fear. When a demon said he was tired of you, it often resulted in being recalled to Hell. Or being smote.
“Jerome…” I tried to assess my best strategy here. Charm? Contrition?
He stepped away and took a deep, calming breath. It didn’t help much. His anger came through loud and clear.
“I’m sending you away. I’m going to outsource you to someone.”
“What?” My anger returned, pushing my fear away momentarily. Outsourcing was a huge insult to a succubus. “You can’t do that.”
“I can do whatever the hell I want. You answer to me.” A lanky guy turned down the hall, heading toward the restroom. Jerome fixed him with a piercing, terrifying look. The guy yelped and hastily headed back the other way. “There’s an archdemon in Vancouver who wants someone to keep an eye on a cult he has an interest in up there.”
“Up there…” My mouth dropped open. “You mean Vancouver, BC? You’re sending me to Canada?” Crap. I really had gone too far. There was also a Vancouver in Washington. That wouldn’t have been so bad. At least I would have stayed domestic.
“He’d wanted a succubus since he only has one and couldn’t spare her. They’ve got their work cut out for them up there, you know. I almost considered sending them Tawny.” He made a face at the mention of his recently acquired and very, very inept succubus. “But, well, she’s not…optimal. I hadn’t wanted to give up you either, but now I think it’ll be worth missing my useful succubus for a while to get you out of my hair. I need some peace and quiet.”
“Look, Jerome,” I said, hoping I sounded penitent. “What do you want me to do? Get another therapist? I can do that. I’ll get a woman. An ugly one. And I’ll try to lay off the attitude and—”
“That’s my decision, Georgie. You need something to occupy you, and this’ll make Cedric happy. He figures a succubus is the best choice to infiltrate his little devil worshipping cult.”
“Devil wor—what, you mean like, Satanists?”
“Something like that.”
I stared. “Canadian Satanists? You’re sending me to a group of Canadian Satanists?”
His only answer was a shrug.
“If this were happening to anyone else, it would be hilarious,” I said. “But why are you doing it? Since when do you help anyone—let alone another demon?” Demons tended to be insanely competitive with each other.
Again, Jerome didn’t answer. He took out a cigarette—honestly, if he had his own, why’d he steal mine earlier?—and did the lighting trick again. He seemed a little less tense after taking a deep drag on it.
“Something else is going on,” I said warily. “You’re using me to use him. What’s this really about?”
“Altruism,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Georgina,” he returned, eyes hard. “You have no right to question this, not as much as you’ve pissed me off lately. Now go pack your things and brush up on the metric system.”