Saturday, January 18, 2020

Succubus Heat CHAPTER 25

To her credit, Grace didn't cower. She stood firm, regaining her composure as she matched Jerome's stare with one of her own. In fact, she regained enough of herself that she remembered to avoid the rain. The drops parted around her, much as the fire had parted around Roman. Her suit and hair were dry again, crisp and perfect. â€Å"You would have done the same thing,† she told Jerome. I couldn't see Jerome's face when he spoke. â€Å"I wouldn't have got caught. You did. You failed.† â€Å"You should be impressed with my ingenuity.† She crossed her arms, almost defiant. â€Å"I'm useful to you.† â€Å"You are meaningless. I could blight you out of existence, and no one would think twice about it.† I wasn't sure about that. Demons smote each other all the time, but that didn't mean Hell liked it. It created paperwork, and if you were caught, you got sent to Hell's equivalent of prison. Grace apparently shared my doubts about how easy it would be for Jerome to kill her. â€Å"I don't think so. As it is, you'll be lucky if you have your job when you get back. You got yourself summoned.† Her eyes flicked to me and Roman, huddled together on the sand. â€Å"Your territory's in chaos. They'll send you off to a desk job-or make you somebody else's subordinate. Quite a fall from an archdemon's position.† â€Å"Not likely,† said Mei, speaking up. â€Å"Not if we spin this right. Jerome's got powerful connections. So do I. And Cedric will advocate for him.† Her willingness to help and assurance about Cedric surprised me, but then, perhaps it was back to the know-thy-enemy philosophy. Grace glared at her former counterpart. â€Å"You're the biggest fool of all here.† â€Å"Enough,† snapped Jerome. â€Å"There's been enough villainous exposition here. The matter's done.† I didn't have to see him to know he was smiling at Grace-only, I suspected it wasn't a very nice smile. â€Å"I will see you in Hell.† He snapped his fingers, and suddenly, what looked like black ice sprang up from the ground and crawled up Grace's body. She hardly had any time to scream because it coated her so quickly and then froze into place, leaving her immobile. She had become a thorny black statue. â€Å"What is that?† I breathed. â€Å"Kind of a demon stasis,† Roman murmured back. â€Å"A prison of sorts. He's ten times more powerful than her-it's an easy thing for him to do.† I wondered then just how powerful Roman really was. He'd seemed matched against Grace, but I still wasn't sure if he'd been holding back or not, for fear of detection. As it was, he now had his signature turned off, appearing as a human for all intents and purposes. He'd done it just before Mei fully materialized. â€Å"You need to get out of here,† I told him. â€Å"Wait,† he responded. Indeed, Roman seemed the least of Jerome's concerns as the archdemon studied Grace's frozen form. Her defeat had been anticlimactic, really. There had been no flashy brawl as everyone else seemed to have had today, but then, I supposed when you wielded the kind of power Jerome did, there was no need. I also had a feeling that Grace had been right about something. Even if he did have connections, Jerome probably couldn't risk doing anything rash to reestablish his control back in Seattle. He probably did want to torture her and blight her from the face of the earth, but binding her and taking her to face hellish justice-such as it was-was going to do him more good. Hell would be more kindly disposed to him if he followed their rules. He turned and faced Mei, who stood off to the side. It was the first time I'd gotten a good glimpse of my boss since his return. His face was blank and cold, but I was pretty sure I could see the fury kindling behind his eyes. Being summoned was pretty much the worst thing that could happen to a demon. â€Å"She was right to a certain extent,† he told Mei. â€Å"It could have been advantageous to turn against me.† â€Å"And be second to her?† Mei shook her head. Like Grace, she had put herself back together. â€Å"No. I won't serve you forever, believe me, but for now, I see what my best course of action is. I'm throwing my lot in with yours.† â€Å"Your loyalty is appreciated.† Mei gave a small nod of acknowledgment. Unlike Kristin and Cedric, where she served him out of love as much as duty, Mei's loyalty was all pragmatism and assessment of what could advance her. Jerome knew this and accepted it. â€Å"And it will be rewarded.† â€Å"I know it will be,† she said evenly. â€Å"And I'll have no co-lieutenant when we return?† â€Å"No. Not if I have anything to do with it.† And for the first time since I had known her, Mei smiled. Her eyes then flicked to the Grace statue. â€Å"Do you need me†¦?† â€Å"No,† said Jerome, seeming to remember us. â€Å"You can go.† Mei wasted no time. She vanished, and Jerome turned around and stared down at Roman and me. His eyes fell on me first. â€Å"So. You're here, Georgie. Why am I not surprised?† â€Å"Because I'm the only one who cared about getting you back and wasn't too lazy to do anything about it?† The ghost of a smile flickered across his lips. â€Å"Fair enough. And you will be rewarded too.† I wanted to tell him that I didn't need a reward, but Jerome had already shifted his attention to Roman. The smile faded. â€Å"You, however, have some balls in coming here.† â€Å"Must run in the family,† said Roman. As beat up as he was, he still managed mockery. â€Å"A suicidal nature does not, however. You know you're seconds away from being destroyed, don't you?† â€Å"Yeah, yeah,† said Roman. â€Å"And I'm sure killing me would help reinforce your badass status. But the truth is, I helped save you. You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me.† I wasn't entirely sure if he'd done as much work as me in all this, but he had certainly made it easier for me. Nonetheless, even if he had actually single-handedly saved Jerome, it meant nothing. Demons didn't operate by a sense of fairness or feel obligations. Jerome affirmed as much. â€Å"I owe you nothing. If you want to risk your life, that's no concern of mine. I don't care whether you live or die.† Roman struggled to his feet. â€Å"That's not true, or else you would have killed me already. Maybe you don't owe me anything†¦and yet, you're indebted to me, even if you don't believe in paying off debts-and I think you do. You can't stand knowing you owe me.† Jerome narrowed his eyes. â€Å"What is it you want?† â€Å"Amnesty.† â€Å"What?† I squeaked. No one paid any attention to me. As far as they were concerned, they were the only two people in the world, father and son. â€Å"I'm tired of running, tired of hiding. I want a place to stay. A place I can settle down in for a while.† â€Å"You don't need me for that.† â€Å"Don't I?† asked Roman. â€Å"Any place I live, even with my signature masked, I live in fear of being discovered by the greater immortals who control it. I'm always watching my back. I want to be somewhere where I can walk around knowing I have at least some measure of protection.† â€Å"If someone else wants to kill you, I'm not going to stand in their way.† â€Å"I know that. But at least I won't have to worry on a daily basis about you being one of them.† Jerome fell silent, and to my complete and utter astonishment, I realized he was deliberating about this. I never would have thought it possible†¦and yet, as Roman had said, if Jerome's mind had been made up, he would have smote Roman already. Last fall, when we'd learned Jerome had his twin nephilim, we'd also learned that he'd had a wife long ago, a woman he loved so much that he'd fallen from grace to be with her. Did any of that love remain? Had it burned out over these millennia as a damned creature? Did he see any of her when he looked at Roman? When Jerome had helped hunt Roman and his twin, it seemed as though he didn't care. He'd even helped kill Helena. Now, I wondered if Jerome was truly as indifferent as he appeared, and I wondered if Roman had long suspected that. I knew Roman hated Jerome-probably more than he hated me-but was it worth an uneasy alliance with Jerome to have some peace? Had Roman realized playing off this paternal relationship might be the only way to buy him a temporary reprieve? Of course he had. That had been Roman's plan all along. Lingering love for Roman's mother†¦and a bit of obligation thrown in. That was why Roman had helped free Jerome-and why he hadn't wanted me to let anyone else in on what I learned, I realized wryly. Secrecy might have been a true concern, but he would have undoubtedly wanted to minimize others' involvement so that he could play a major role in Jerome's rescue and use that as leverage. â€Å"Mei knows,† said Jerome. â€Å"I can't control what she'll do.† â€Å"She doesn't,† said Roman. â€Å"I knew what Georgina sent Seth off to do, and I had shut down just before Mei arrived. She never saw my face last time, so she didn't recognize me now. She doesn't realize what I am.† â€Å"He's right,† I realized, recalling how Grace had had him in a chokehold. Roman had been gradually letting go of his power and had had very lucky timing. â€Å"Even if that's true,† said Jerome, who seemed to be growing frustrated by the logic, â€Å"I can't control what others'll do. The angels will always be a problem.† â€Å"Well, not that much of a problem.† The new voice was accompanied by the arrival of an all-too-familiar aura, one that felt crystalline and cool. Carter now stood beside us. â€Å"Welcome back.† Jerome glanced over at the angel, and for half a second, he almost looked pleased. The two of them appraised each other, probably communicating telepathically. Or maybe not. Maybe after so many eons of friendship, they no longer needed to. â€Å"I suppose you're going to advocate for him too,† said Jerome. Carter shrugged and glanced over at Roman. â€Å"I don't know.† Angels had as much of an instinct to hunt down nephilim as demons did. I thought of Carter as benevolent, but he too had helped destroy Helena. â€Å"He did help. Maybe he'll stay on good behavior.† It was a sign of how crazy things had become when Jerome and Carter seemed on the verge of letting a nephilim stick around-and that I was the one who protested. â€Å"Are you guys out of your minds?† I exclaimed. â€Å"You know what he's done! He killed those people and hurt others. For all we know, this is a scam. Let him back in Seattle, and he could try to kill others. He could try to kill you. He could try to kill me !† Everyone turned to me, seeming a bit startled by the outburst. â€Å"And here I thought we were partners,† mused Roman. â€Å"Bind him,† said Carter. â€Å"Bind him in a deal.† Jerome and Roman sized each other up, and I held my breath. An immortal deal reached a creature's soul and could not be broken without dire consequences. I'd made a couple in my life. Everything rested on Jerome now, whether he was willing to go against every immortal taboo and knowingly let a nephilim live in his territory. Finally, Jerome spoke. â€Å"I will allow you to live in my domain. During such time, I will not harm you-unless you're discovered by others and I am given no choice. I make no guarantees about other immortals who find you and offer no protection should that occur. You in turn vow not to implicate me in any way for doing this. You promise not to harm me or any other immortals who cross into my territory, unless it's self-defense-or unless I've given my okay. You also promise to harm none of my subordinates†-he glanced at me-â€Å"anywhere in the world.† â€Å"I accept,† said Roman gravely. â€Å"And,† added Jerome, a sharp glint in his eyes, â€Å"you vow to be available should I require your services in a defensive, covert, or-in very rare conditions-offensive way.† There it was. The reason Jerome could go along with something like this. In offering Roman sanctuary, he was bargaining to have a secret nephilim agent, a powerful weapon none of his enemies knew about it. I'd never heard of anything like this. â€Å"I accept with the condition that I won't kill on your command,† Roman said at last. Jerome considered. â€Å"Agreed. The terms of this deal end should you at any time openly renounce my amnesty. Or if I also declare the deal null and void.† â€Å"I want a time frame on that,† said Roman wryly. â€Å"When does my lease expire?† â€Å"A century. Then we'll renegotiate.† â€Å"I accept it all, then.† â€Å"And I agree to the same amnesty terms as Jerome,† piped in Carter. â€Å"Except I don't need you to spy or kill for me.† â€Å"Agreed,† said Roman. It was all so terribly formal, and my presence felt complete superfluous. All three of them shook hands, and as they did, power burned in the air, binding them all to what they'd agreed. â€Å"Well,† said Jerome briskly. â€Å"Now that that's done, I'm going back to clean up the mess that's been made in my absence.† He gave Roman a wry look. â€Å"Considering you aren't technically in my territory yet, I'd advise you-† Jerome suddenly stopped and scanned the beach. â€Å"What about the other summoner? The human one? Was he here?† I looked around as well. The beach was empty. â€Å"It was Dante†¦Ã¢â‚¬  I said slowly. Jerome rolled his eyes. â€Å"Typical. Where is he now?† â€Å"I don't know,† I said honestly. â€Å"Grace beat him up.† I'd worried he was dead, but apparently not. Glancing over to where he'd been lying, I saw what looked like tracks in the sand where he'd been dragged off. I decided to keep that to myself. â€Å"Wonderful,† said Jerome. Turning back toward us, he scrutinized me. â€Å"You will keep this deal to yourself, Georgie. And we'll discuss your reward another day.† He disappeared and with him, the Grace statue. I didn't envy her. Roman, Carter, and I started walking back toward the parking lot. I couldn't speak for them, but my mind was reeling with everything that had happened. â€Å"Did you see what happened to Dante?† I asked Roman. â€Å"Afraid I was kind of busy. What happened to Mortensen after he called Mei?† â€Å"I told him to leave, and I think†¦Ã¢â‚¬  I hesitated, not entirely sure how I knew this, unless it was just my understanding of Seth's nature. â€Å"I think Seth may have carried him off in the confusion. Oh man, he actually listened to me.† The parking lot was empty. My car was gone. â€Å"They took my car,† I explained. I honestly hadn't thought Seth would, despite my pleas for him to leave. â€Å"Wow,† said Roman, clearly delighted. â€Å"Your ex-boyfriend helped save your current boyfriend and then stole your car. Or-well, wait-is Mortensen your boyfriend now? Did he technically save your ex?† â€Å"Oh, shut up. It doesn't matter. We don't have a way to get back.† â€Å"Did you tell him to take the car?† asked Carter. â€Å"Yeah. I told him to get far away. I wanted him safe, and I guess he listened.† â€Å"Depends on how you define it,† said Roman. â€Å"Him coming back for the other guy put him in the demon line of fire. Why would he do that for someone he didn't like?† I stared at the empty parking spot. â€Å"Because he's Seth.† Carter seemed as nonchalant about all this as Dante. â€Å"Well, it's a good thing I'm here, huh?† He rested his hands on our shoulders, and I braced myself for immortal teleportation. â€Å"Ready for a ride home?† â€Å"It beats walking,† I said. Carter paused and gave Roman a curious glance. â€Å"What are you going to do for a home?† Roman was thoughtful for a moment. â€Å"Well, I hear Georgina's moving to a bigger place.† He glanced over at me with one of his beautiful grins. â€Å"Need a roommate?†

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