Succubus Blues
Author:Richelle Mead
Synopsis:

Chapter 1

    Chapter 9

    Returning to Queen Anne, I discovered I still had a lot of evening left. Unfortunately, I had nothing to do. A succubus without a social life. Very sad. It was made sadder still by the fact that I could have had any number of things to do but had dropped the ball on them. Certainly Doug had asked me out often enough; no doubt he was now enjoying his day off with a more appreciative woman. Roman I had also turned down, beautiful eyes and all. I smiled wistfully, remembering his easy banter and quick, bright charm. He could have been O'Neill, made flesh from Seth's novels.

    Thinking of Seth reminded me he still had my book and that I was going on Day 3 without it. I sighed, wanting to know what would happen next, to be lost in the pages of Cady and O'Neill. Now that would have been a way to spend the evening. The bastard. He'd never bring it back. I'd never find out what—

    With a groan, I suddenly wanted to smack my forehead for my own stupidity. Did I or did I not work for a large bookstore? After parking my car, I walked over to Emerald City and found the massive display of The Glasgow Pact that was still up from the signing. I grabbed a copy and carried it to the front counter. Beth, one of the cashiers, was momentarily free.

    "Will you demagnetize this for me?" I asked her, sliding the book over the counter.

    "Sure," she said, running it across the pad. "Are you using your discount on it?”

    I shook my head. "I'm not buying it. I'm just borrowing it.”

    "Can you do that?" She passed the book back to me.

    "Sure," I lied. "Managers can.”

    Minutes later, I showed my prize to an unimpressed Aubrey and turned on the water in my bathtub. While it filled, I checked my messages—none—and sorted through the mail I'd picked up on the way in. Nothing interesting there either. Satisfied nothing else required my attention, I stepped out of my clothes and sank into the watery depths of the tub, careful not to get the book wet. Aubrey, crouching on a nearby counter, watched me with squinty eyes, apparently pondering why anyone would willingly immerse themselves in water ever, let alone for extended periods of time.

    I figured I could read more than five pages tonight since I'd been deprived for the last couple of days. When I finished the fifteenth, I discovered I was three pages from the next chapter. Might as well end with a clean break. After I was done, I sighed and leaned back, feeling decadent and spent. Pure bliss. Books were a lot less messy than orgasms.

    The next morning, I went to work, happy and refreshed. Paige found me around lunchtime as I sat on the edge of my desk and watched Doug play Mine Sweeper. Seeing her, I leapt from my position while he hastily closed down the game.

    Paige ignored him, fixing her eyes on me. "I want you to do something with Seth Mortensen.”

    Uneasily, I remembered the love slave comment. "Like what?”

    "I don't know." She gave a small, unconcerned shrug of the head. "Anything. He's new to town. He doesn't know anyone yet, so his social life is probably dismal.”

    Recalling his cold reception yesterday and conversational difficulties, I wasn't exactly surprised by this news. "I took him on a tour.”

    "It's not the same.”

    "What about his brother?”

    "What about him?”

    "I'm sure they're doing social things all the time.”

    "Why are you fighting this? I thought you were a fan.”

    I was a fan—a major one—but reading his work and interacting with him were proving to be two very different things. The Glasgow Pact was amazing, as was the e-mail he'd sent. Spoken conversation was a bit... lacking. I couldn't tell Paige this, of course, so she and I went back and forth a bit on the issue while Doug looked on with interest. Finally, I agreed against my better judgment, dreading the prospect of even proposing the venture to Seth, let alone embarking upon it.

    When I finally made myself approach him later in the day, I was fully braced for another brush-off. Instead, he turned from his work and smiled at me.

    "Hey," he said. His mood seemed so improved that I decided yesterday must have been a fluke.

    "Hey. How's it going?”

    "Not so well." He tapped the laptop's screen lightly with his fingernail, eyes frowning as he focused on it. "They're being a bit difficult. I just can't quite get the grip I need on this one scene.”

    Interest swept me. Bad days with Cady and O'Neill. I had always imagined interacting with such characters must be a nonstop thrill. The ultimate job.

    "Sounds like you need a break then. Paige is worried about your social life.”

    His brown eyes glanced back to me. "Oh? How so?”

    "She thinks you aren't getting out enough. That you don't know anyone in town yet.”

    "I know my brother and his family. And Mistee." He paused. "And I know you.”

    "Good thing, because I'm about to become your cruise director. “

    Seth's lips quirked slightly, then he shook his head and looked back at the screen. "That's really nice—of you and Paige both—but not necessary.”

    He wasn't dismissing me as he had yesterday, but I still felt miffed that my generous deal was not being embraced, especially since I was offering it under duress.

    "Come on," I said. "What else are you going to do?”

    "Write.”

    I couldn't argue with that. Writing those novels was God's Own Work. Who was I to interfere with their creator? And yet. . . Paige had given a directive. That was nearly a divine commandment in itself. A compromise popped into my head.

    "You could do something, I don't know, research-related. For the book. Two birds with one stone.”

    "I've already got all the research I need for this one.”

    "What about, uh, ongoing character development? Like ... going to the planetarium." Cady had a fascination with astronomy. She would often point out constellations and link them to some symbolic story analogous to the novel's plot. "Or ... or... a hockey game? You need fresh ideas for O'Neill's games. You'll run out.”

    He shook his head. "No I won't. I've never even been to a hockey game to begin with.”

    "I—what? That's ... no. Really?”

    He shrugged.

    "Where ... do you get the game info from then? The plays?”

    "I know the basic rules. I pick up pieces on the Internet, patch it together.”

    I stared, feeling betrayed. O'Neill was absolutely obsessed with the Detroit Red Wings. That passion shaped his personality and was reflected in his actions: fast, skilled, and at times brutal. Believing Seth to be meticulous about every detail, I had naturally assumed he must know everything about hockey to have written such a defining trait into his protagonist.

    Seth watched me, confused by whatever stunned look I wore.

    "We're going to a hockey game," I stated.

    "No, we—”

    "We are going to a hockey game. Hang on a sec.”

    I ran back downstairs, kicked Doug off our computer, and got the information I needed. It was just as I'd suspected. The Thunderbirds' season had just started.

    "Six-thirty," I told Seth, minutes later. "Meet me at Key Arena, at the main window. I'll buy the tickets.”

    He looked dubious.

    "Six-thirty," I repeated. "This'll be great. It'll give you a break and let you actually see what the game's like. Besides, you said you were blocked today.”

    Not only that, it would fulfill my obligation to Paige in a way that didn't require much talking. The stadium would be too loud, and we'd be too busy watching to need conversation.

    "I don't know where Key Arena is.”

    "You can walk to it from here. Just keep heading for the Space Needle. They're both part of the Seattle Center.”

    "So when are you meeting me?" There was a warning note in my voice, daring him to cross me.

    He grimaced. "Six-thirty.”

    After work, I set off to run my own errands. I had nothing new to work on with the vampire hunter enigma until Erik got back to me. Unfortunately, the mundane world still had its own share of requirements, and I spent most of my evening taking care of miscellany. Like restocking my supply of cat food, coffee, and Grey Goose. And checking out the new line of lip glosses at the MAC counter. I even remembered to pick up a cheap, assemble-it-yourself bookshelf for the fire-hazard stacks of books in my living room.

    My productivity knew no bounds.

    For dinner, I grabbed Indian food and managed to land at Key Arena precisely at six-thirty. I didn't see Seth anywhere but didn't panic just yet. The Seattle Center was not easy to navigate; he was probably still wandering around the Needle, trying to make his way over here.

    I bought the tickets and sat down on one of the large cement steps. The air had turned chilly tonight, and I snuggled into my heavy fleece pullover, shape-shifting it a bit thicker. While waiting, I people-watched. Couples, groups of guys, and excited children were all turning out for Seattle's fierce little team. They made for interesting viewing.

    When six-fifty rolled around, I started getting nervous. We had ten more minutes, and I worried Seth might have gotten seriously lost. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed the store, wondering if he was there. Nope, they told me, but Paige did have his cell number. I tried it next, only to get voice mail.

    Annoyed, I snapped my phone shut and huddled farther into my own embrace to stay warm. We still had time. Besides, Seth not being at the store was a good thing. It meant he was on his way.

    Yet, when seven and the start of the game arrived, he still wasn't there. I tried his cell again, then looked longingly at the doors. I wanted to see the beginning of the game. Seth might never have watched hockey, but I had and liked it. The continual movement and energy held my attention more than any other sport, even if the fights sometimes made me squirm. I didn't want to miss this, but I'd also hate for Seth to walk up and not know what to do when I wasn't where I said I'd be.

    I waited fifteen more minutes, listening to the sounds of the game echoing toward me, before I finally faced the truth.

    I had been stood up.

    Such a thing was unheard of. It hadn't happened in . . . over a century. I felt more stunned than embarrassed or angry by the revelation. The whole thing was just too weird to fathom.

    No, I decided a moment later, I was mistaken. Seth had been reluctant, yes, but he wouldn't just refuse to come, not without calling. And maybe . .. maybe something bad had happened. He could have been hit by a car for all I knew. After Duane's death, one could never predict when tragedy might hit.

    Yet, until I had more information, the only tragedy I faced now was missing the game. I called his cell again, this time leaving him a message with my number and whereabouts. I would come outside and retrieve him if needed. I went into the game.

    Sitting alone made me feel conspicuous, driving home the sadness of my situation. Other couples sat nearby, and a group of guys kept eyeing me, occasionally nudging one of their number who wanted to come talk to me. Being hit on didn't faze me, but looking like I needed it did. I might choose not to date, but that didn't mean I couldn't do it when I wanted. I didn't like others perceiving me as desperate and alone. I felt that way enough sometimes without outside confirmation.

    At the first break, I bought a corndog to console myself. While sifting through my purse for cash, I found the slip of paper with Roman's phone number. I stared at it while I ate, remembering his persistence and how bad I'd felt refusing him. My sudden painful abandonment fired the need to hang out with someone, to remind myself I really could have social contact when I wanted.

    Common sense froze me briefly as I was about to dial, cautioning that I would be breaking my decades-long vow of not dating nice guys. There were more prudent ways to deal with an unused hockey ticket, that reasonable inner voice reminded me. Like Hugh or the vampires. Calling one of them would provide a safer interaction.

    But. . . but they treated me like a sister, and while I loved them like family too, I didn't want to be a sister just now. And anyway, it wasn't like this was even a real date. This would be a simple matter of companionship. Plus, the same precautions it had provided for Seth—lack of interaction— applied for Roman too. It would be perfectly safe. I dialed the number.

    "Hello?”

    "I'm tired of holding on to your coat.”

    I could hear his smile on the other end. "I figured you'd thrown it away by now.”

    "Are you crazy? It's a Kenneth Cole. Anyway, that's not really why I called.”

    "Yeah, I figured.”

    "Do you want to come to a hockey game tonight?”

    "When does it start?”

    "Um, forty minutes ago.”

    A Seth-worthy pause.

    "So, you just now thought to invite me?”

    "Well. . . the person I was going with didn't exactly show up.”

    "And now you call me?”

    "Well, you were so adamant about going out.”

    "Yes, but I'm . . . wait a minute. I'm your second choice?”

    "Don't think of it like that. Think of it as more like, I don't know, you're stepping up to fulfill what someone else couldn't.”

    "Like the Miss America runner-up?”

    "Look, are you coming or not?”

    "Very tempting, but I'm busy right now. And I'm not just saying that either." Another pause. "I'll stop by your place after the game, though.”

    No, that wasn't how this was supposed to play out. "I'm busy after the game.”

    "What, you and your no-show have other plans?”

    "I.. . no. I have to . .. put together a bookcase. It's going to take a while. Hard work, you know?”

    "I excel at that handy-type stuff. I'll see you in a couple hours.”

    "Wait, you can't—" The phone disconnected.

    I closed my eyes in a moment of exasperation, opened them, then returned to the action on the ice. What had I just done?

    After the game, I skulked back home. The elation of winning couldn't overpower the anxiety of having Roman in my apartment.

    "Aubrey," I said upon entering, "what am I going to do?”

    She yawned, revealing her tiny, domestic-sized fangs. I shook my head at her.

    "I can't hide under the bed like you. He won't fall for it.”

    Both of us jumped at the sudden knock at the door. For half a second, I did consider the bed before deigning to let Roman in. Aubrey studied him a moment, then—apparently being too overwhelmed at the sight of a sex god in our midst—darted off for my bedroom.

    Roman, casually dressed, stood bearing a six-pack of Mountain Dew and two bags of Doritos. And a box of cereal.

    "Lucky Charms?" I asked.

    "Magically delicious," he explained. "Requisite for any sort of building project.”

    I shook my head, still amazed at how he had managed to weasel his way over here. "This isn't a date.”

    He cut me a scandalized look. "Obviously. I'd bring Count Chocula for that.”

    "I'm serious. Not a date," I maintained.

    "Yeah, yeah. I get it." He set the stuff on the counter and turned to me. "So, where is it? Let's get this started.”

    I exhaled, uneasily relieved by his matter-of-fact manner. No flirtation, no overt come-ons. Just honest, friendly helpfulness. I'd get the shelf built, and then he'd be gone.

    We tore into the huge box, dumping out loose shelves and panels, as well as an assortment of bolts and screws. The directions were short on words, mostly containing some cryptic diagrams with arrows pointing to where certain parts went. After minutes of scrutiny, we finally decided the large backboard was the place to start, laying it flat on the floor with the shelves and walls placed on top. Once everything was properly aligned, Roman picked up the screws, studying where they joined the various parts together.

    He examined the screws, looked at the box, then turned back to the shelf. "That's weird.”

    "What is?”

    "I think . . . most of these things usually have holes in the wood, then they include a little tool to put the screws in.”

    I leaned over the wood. No premade holes. No tools. "We've got to screw these in ourselves.”

    He nodded.

    "I've got a screwdriver . . . somewhere.”

    He eyed the wood. "I don't think that'll work. I think we need a drill.”

    I felt awed at his hardware prowess. "I know I don't have that.”

    We hightailed it over to a big chain home store, walking in ten minutes before they closed. A harried salesclerk showed us to the drill section, then sprinted off, calling back a warning that we didn't have much time.

    The power tools stared back at us, and I looked to Roman for guidance.

    "Not a clue," he finally admitted after a span of silence.

    "I thought you excelled at this 'handy-type stuff.' “

    "Yeah. . . well..." He turned sheepish, a new look for him. "That was kind of an exaggeration.”

    "Like a lie?”

    "No. Like an exaggeration.”

    "They're the same.”

    "No they aren't.”

    I let the semantics go. "Why'd you say it then?”

    He gave a rueful headshake. "Partially because I just wanted to see you again. And the rest... I don't know. I guess the short answer is you said you had something hard to do. So I wanted to help.”

    "I'm a damsel in distress?" I teased.

    He studied me seriously. "Hardly. But you are someone I'd like to get to know better, and I wanted you to see I've got more on my mind than just getting you into bed.”

    "So if I offered you sex here in this aisle, you'd turn me down?" The flippant remark came off my tongue before I could stop it. It was a defense mechanism, a joke to cover up how confused his earnest explanation had made me. Most guys did just want to get me into bed. I wasn't quite sure what to do with one who didn't.

    My glibness succeeded in killing the pensive moment. Roman became his old confident and charming self, and I almost regretted the change I'd wrought, wondering what might have followed.

    "I'd have to turn you down. We've only got six minutes now. They'd kick us out before it was done." He snapped his attention to the drills with renewed vigor. "And as for my so-called handy skills," he added, "I'm a remarkably fast learner, so I wasn't really exaggerating. By the end of the night, I will excel.”

    Not true.

    After arbitrarily picking out a drill and coming home, Roman set himself to aligning the bookcase's pieces and putting them together. He fit one of the shelves to the backboard, lined up his screw, and drilled.

    The drill went through at an angle, missing the shelf entirely.

    "Son of a bitch," he swore.

    I moved in and yelped when I saw the screw sticking through the back of my bookshelf. We took it out and stared bleakly at the conspicuous hole left behind.

    "Probably it'll be covered by books," I suggested.

    He set his mouth in a grim line and attempted the same feat again. The screw made contact this time but was still at an obvious angle. He pulled it out again, finally inserting it correctly on his third try.

    Unfortunately, the process only repeated as he continued. Watching hole after hole appear, I finally asked if I could try. He waved his hand in a defeatist gesture and handed me the drill. I fitted in a screw, leaned over, and drilled it in perfectly in my first attempt.

    "Jesus," he said. "I'm completely superfluous. I'm the damsel in distress.”

    "No way. You brought the cereal.”

    I finished attaching the shelves. The walls came next. The backboard had small hash marks to help with alignment. With careful scrutiny, I tried to line it up cleanly along the edges.

    It proved impossible, and I soon realized why. Despite my perfect drilling, all of the shelves were affixed crookedly, some too far to the left or right. The walls could not fit flush with the backboard's edges.

    Roman sat back against my couch, running a hand over his eyes. "My God.”

    I munched on a handful of Lucky Charms and considered. "Well. Let's just line them up as best we can.”

    "This thing'll never hold books.”

    "Yeah. We'll do what we can.”

    We tried it with the first wall, and though it took a while and looked terrible, it sufficed as serviceable. We moved on to the next one.

    "I think I finally have to admit I'm not so good at this," he observed. "But you seem to have kind of a knack. A regular handywoman.”

    "I don't know about that. I think the only thing I have a knack for is barely scraping by with things I have to do.”

    "That was a world-weary tone if ever I heard one. Why? You got a lot of things you 'have to do'?”

    I nearly choked on my laugh, thinking about the whole succubus survival scene. "You might say that. I mean, doesn't everyone?”

    "Yes, of course, but you've got to balance them with things you want to do. Don't get bogged down with the have-to's. Otherwise, there's no point in being alive. Life becomes a matter of survival.”

    I finished a screw. "You're getting kind of deep for me tonight, Descartes.”

    "Don't be cute. I'm serious. What do you really want? From life? For your future? For example, do you plan on being at the bookstore forever?”

    "For a while. Why? Are you saying there's something wrong with that?”

    "No. Just seems kind of mundane. Like a way to fill the time.”

    I smiled. "No, definitely not. And even if it was, we can still enjoy mundane things.”

    "Yes, but I've found most people harbor dreams of a more exciting vocation. The one that's too crazy to ever actually do. The one that's too hard, too much work, or just too 'out there.' The gas station attendant who dreams of being a rock star. The accountant who wishes she'd taken art history classes instead of statistics. People put their dreams off, either because they think it's impossible, or because they'll do it 'someday' “

    He had paused from our work, his face serious once more.

    "So what do you want, Georgina Kincaid? What is your crazy dream? The one you think you can't have but secretly fantasize about?”

    Honestly, my deepest longing was to have a normal relationship, to love and be loved without supernatural complications. Such a small thing, I thought sadly, compared to his grandiose examples. Not crazy at all, just impossible. I didn't know if I wanted love now as a way of making up for the mortal marriage I'd destroyed or simply because the years had shown me that love could be a bit more fulfilling than being a continual servant of the flesh. Not that that didn't have its moments, of course. Being wanted and adored was an alluring thing, a thing most mortals and immortals craved. But loving and longing were not the same things.

    Relationships with other immortals seemed a logical choice, but employees of hell proved nonideal candidates for stability and commitment. I'd had a few semisatisfying relationships with such men over the years, but they'd all come to nothing.

    Explaining any of this, however, was not a conversation Roman and I were going to have anytime soon. So instead, I confessed my secondary fantasy, half-surprised at how much I wanted to. People didn't usually ask me what I wanted from life. Most just asked me what position I wanted to do it in.

    "Well, if I weren't at the bookstore—and believe me, I'm very happy there—I think I'd like to choreograph Vegas dance shows.”

    Roman's face split into a grin. "There, you see that? That's the kind of wacky, off-the-wall thing I'm talking about." He leaned forward. "So what holds you back from bare breasts and sequins? Risk? Sensationalism? What others will say?”

    "No," I said sadly. "Simply the fact that I can't do it.”

    " 'Can't' is a—”

    "I mean, I can't choreograph because I can't write routines. I've tried. I can't... I can't create anything, for that matter. Anything new. I'm not the creative type.”

    He scoffed. "I don't believe that.”

    "No, it's true.”

    Someone had once told me that immortals were not meant to create, that that was the province of humans who burned to leave behind a legacy after their short existence. But I'd known immortals who could do it. Peter was always concocting his original culinary surprises. Hugh used the human body as a canvas. But me? I had never been able to do it as a mortal either. The lack was in me.

    "You don't know how hard I've tried to do creative things. Painting classes. Music lessons. I'm a dismal failure at worst, a copycat of another's genius at best.”

    "You've been pretty adept with this building project.”

    "Another person's design, another person's directions. I excel at that part. I'm smart. I can reason. I can read people, interact with them perfectly. I can copy things, learn the right moves and steps. My eyes, for example." I pointed to them. "I can apply makeup as well or better than any of the department store girls. But I get all my ideas and palettes from others, from pictures in magazines. I don't make up anything of my own. The Vegas thing? I could dance in a show and be perfect. Seriously. I could be the star of any revue—following another's choreography. But I couldn't write any moves myself, not in any major or significant way.”

    The wall was done. "I don't believe it," he argued. His passionate defense both surprised and charmed me. "You're bright and vivacious. You're intelligent—extremely so. You have to give yourself a chance. Start small, and go from there.”

    "Is this the part where you tell me to believe in myself? The sky is the limit?”

    "No. This is the part where I tell you it's getting late, and I need to go. Your shelf is finished, and I have had a lovely evening.”

    We stood up and lifted the bookcase, leaning it against my living room wall. Stepping back, we studied it in silence. Even Aubrey appeared for the inspection.

    Each shelf sat at a crooked angle. One of the sidewalls almost lined up straight with the backboard's edge, the other had a quarter-inch margin. Six holes were visible in the backboard. And most inexplicably of all, the whole thing seemed to lean slightly to the left.

    I started laughing. And I couldn't stop. After a moment of shock, Roman joined me.

    "Dear Lord," I said finally, wiping tears away. "That's the most horrible thing I've ever seen.”

    Roman opened his mouth in disagreement, then reconsidered. "It just might be." He saluted. "But I think it'll hold, Captain.”

    We made a few more mirthful comments before I walked him to the door, remembering to give him his coat back. In spite of his jokes, he seemed more genuinely disappointed about our shelf failure than I did, like he had let me down. Somehow, I found this more appealing than his perfectly timed lines or charming bravado. Not that I didn't love those too. I studied him as we said goodbye, thinking about his "chivalry" and passionate belief in me following my heart's desire. The lump of fear I always carried around people I liked softened a little.

    "Hey, you never told me your crazy dream.”

    The aqua eyes crinkled. "Not so crazy. Just still trying to score that date with you.”

    Not so crazy. Just like mine. Companionship over fame and glamour. I took the plunge.

    "Well, then ... what are you doing tomorrow?”

    He brightened. "Nothing yet.”

    "Then come by the bookstore just before closing. I'm giving a dance lesson." The dance lesson would have lots of people. It would be a safe compromise for us.

    That smile faltered only slightly. "A dance lesson?”

    "You have a problem with that? Are you changing your mind about going out?”

    "Well, no, but... is it like the Vegas thing? You covered in rhinestones? Because I could probably get into that.”

    "Not exactly.”

    He shrugged, the charisma on high-beam. "Well. We'll save that for the second date.”

    "No. There's no second date, remember? Just the one, then that's it. We don't see each other anymore. You said so. Super-secret Boy Scout... whatever.”

    "That might have been an exaggeration.”

    "No. That would be a lie.”

    "Ah." He winked at me. "I guess those two aren't the same then after all, eh?”

    "I—" My words halted at the logic.

    He gave me one of his roguish bows before sweeping away. "Farewell, Georgina.”

    I went back inside, hoping I hadn't just made a mistake, and found Aubrey sitting on one of my shelves. "Whoa, be careful," I warned. "I don't think that's structurally sound.”

    Although it was late, I didn't feel tired. Not after this wacky evening with Roman. I felt wired, his presence affecting both my body and mind. Inspired, I shooed Aubrey off the bookcase and started transferring my stacks. With each new weight addition, I expected collapse, but the thing held.

    When I got to my Seth Mortensen books, I suddenly remembered the cataclysm that had sparked this whole evening. Anger kindled in me once more. I'd heard nary a word from the writer the entire time. The getting-hit-by-a-car thing might still be a possibility, but my instincts doubted it. He had stood me up.

    Half of me considered kicking his books in retaliation, but I knew I could never do that. I loved them too much. No need to punish them for their creator's shortcomings. Longingly, I picked up The Glasgow Pact, suddenly anxious to read my next five-page installment. I left the rest of my books unshelved and settled on the couch, Aubrey at my feet.

    When I reached the stopping point, I discovered something incredible. Cady was developing a love interest in this one. It was unheard of. O'Neill, ever the charming ladies' man, got around all the time. Cady remained virtuously pure, no matter the number of sexual innuendoes and jokes she traded across the table with O'Neill. Nothing tangible had happened thus far in the book, but I could read the inevitable signs of what was to come with her and this investigator they'd met in Glasgow.

    I kept reading, unable to leave that plotline hanging. And the farther I read, the harder it was to stop. I soon took a secret, irrational satisfaction at breaking the five-page rule. Like I was somehow getting back at Seth.

    The night wore on. Cady went to bed with the guy, and O'Neill became uncharacteristically jealous and freaked out, despite his usual surface charm. Holy shit. I left the couch, put on pajamas, and curled up in my bed. Aubrey followed. I kept reading.

    I finished the book at four in the morning, bleary-eyed and exhausted. Cady saw the guy a few more times as she and O'Neill wrapped up their mystery—as enthralling as ever, but suddenly less interesting compared to the interpersonal developments—and then she and the Scotsman parted ways. She and O'Neill returned to Washington, D.C., and the status quo resettled.

    I exhaled and set the book on the floor, unsure what to think, mainly because I was so tired. Still, in a valiant effort, I got up from bed, found my laptop, and logged into my Emerald City e-mail. I sent Seth a terse message: Cady got some. What's up with that? Then, as an afterthought: By the way, the hockey game was great.

    Satisfied I'd registered my opinion, I promptly fell asleep ... only to be awakened a few hours later by my alarm clock.