Drew snapped out of Mia’s trance almost immediately. “What was that all about? Looked like you all were discussing something pretty serious.”
“They work at, uh, the strip club. I mean, they’re from the corporate offices—like the CEOs. Not sure if you’ve read the paper, but there’s been a string of . . . um, disappearances lately. Some of our strippers are missing.”
Lines around Drew’s lips and eyes deepened. “Oh, my God. Do they have any idea where they are? Have they been abducted?”
A sob rose in my chest, but I swallowed it down, shrugging my shoulders. “No one knows where they could be. They suspect some sort of kidnapping or—or maybe even . . . something worse.”
“Worse than abduction?” Realization flickered across his face. “Oh. Are they doing anything to protect the rest of their dancers? Are you safe?” Concern pinched at the creases around his eyes and his mouth straightened with seriousness.
I smiled at his concern, resisting the urge to lift my hand to his face. Instead, I squeezed his arm in what I hope was a not-
-friendly way. There was a tingle as I touched him. It was as though my body was trying hard to steal life from anything it could. It craved it, needed it, and yet could do nothing to satisfy itself. But there was no sizzle at our touch. No sweet relief of soul within my body. The tingle was not me stealing any of his life—simply an attempt to do so. “I’ll be okay, Drew.” But I knew this was very much a lie. I had no idea if I would be okay. In fact, it was very likely that I would
be okay. I pulled my hand back and tightened my hold around my purse. “I should go.”
“I just—I’m not here working. You have stuff to do. I should go home.”
“Why don’t you just hang out for a while? I’ll make you a caramel mocha latte.”
I turned away from him and wiped my index finger beneath my eyes.
“Monica?” His voice was soft.
My eyes filled with tears and I didn’t say anything more; just stood there, lowering my chin so that he wouldn’t see me cry.
“C’mere.” Drew took my hand, leading me to his back office.
“But the register,” I said through sniffles.
“Genevieve can handle it,” He made a gesture toward the other barista working and then lead me to the back. Sitting me down on his desk, he placed a tissue box in front of my nose.
I snatched the top tissue and dabbed my eyes. “Sorry.” It was all I could manage to choke out. I crossed my legs, suddenly very aware of the fact that I’d never looked such a mess in front of Drew.
My hair was always smooth and well kept, my makeup never ran, and my clothes never wrinkled. But today—today I was a mess. I could feel the mascara streaking down my face and saw the results of black smudges on the tissue. My hair was frizzing around my face, and for the first time ever, my jeans didn’t fit exactly right. I had forgotten about all the ways being human sucked.
“It’s okay.” Drew put his arms around me, his muscular chest pressed against my cheek. I raised my hand to his bicep, and my body trembled at the touch. He sighed as he held me. “Your boss at the club—what’s his name?”
I reluctantly pulled away from his grasp. “Lucien,” I said while attempting to daintily dab at my eyes, knowing the effort was pointless.
“Right, Lucien. Is there anything he can do to help? Can they hire bodyguards or something for you all?”
I shrugged. “He’s sort of going to be my bodyguard, I think. He mentioned something about staying the night with me.”
“Oh.” Drew’s voice dropped. “I didn’t realize . . . I mean, are you two . . . friends?” There was a note of hesitation in his voice.
I paused to look up at Drew before answering. “Yes. We’re friends.”
“But not lovers.”
“Oh . . .”
Was it me, or did his voice lift slightly?
My tears had almost stopped. The relief in his voice made me smile. “Good?”
“Well, yeah,” He took a step back from me and put his hands on his hips. His white Hanes T-shirt wrinkled beneath his fingers. “It would be hard for him to remain levelheaded if you two were more than friends.” His eyes darted around the office uncomfortably, trying to find any spot to focus on other than me. “It might put you at more of a risk.”
I stood up from Drew’s desk and took a step closer to him, closing the gap he had created. I was all too aware of my body. My lack of succubus powers felt amazing for the first time all day. “Or it could have worked in my favor. The passion and adrenaline of having a lover protect me could make him stronger.”
He swallowed, his breathing shallow and heavy. “Yes. But—you’re
involved with him.”
I slowly rotated my head from left to right, shaking it to say
“Not like that.” I took another step and Drew’s back hit the wall behind him. My nose came to his Adam’s apple. I flicked my tongue out to taste the soft skin at the hollow of his neck.
He groaned, and I pushed my pelvis against his, feeling his firmness pushing through the denim of his jeans. Nibbling his neck I traveled up to his jaw, exploring his skin—the taste of salt and flesh on my tongue. When I reached his mouth I paused. We stood there, lips millimeters apart, looking into each other’s eyes. I breathed in as he exhaled, drinking his breath like water. I brushed my lips gently across his, their softness like rose petals, velvety and smooth. I had never allowed this indulgence before. Never walked this tightrope of emotions. There was a flutter of excitement deep in my core, like I had swallowed several butterflies. It was a nervousness I hadn’t felt in years. Decades.
“Monica, I don’t think we should . . .” I put a finger to his lips to stop his words.
“Shhh,” I whispered, and slipped my arms out of my backless shirt, letting it fall away to the floor. His body tensed beneath my hands, and I lowered them to his waistband, running a fingernail along the edge. He closed his eyes and his head fell back against the wall. I let my lips trail down his jawline, across his neck, and I peeled his shirt off of him, throwing it to the ground.
“No,” he said, suddenly loud. With two big hands, he pushed me away, holding me at arm’s length. “No,” he repeated softer this time. “I can’t, Monica. I’m sorry. I can’t do this to Adrienne.”
I didn’t move for a moment; I stood completely frozen and slowly rotated my head up to look at him.
Well, this is new,
I thought. “You two have only been dating for a couple months.” When you’re a few hundred years old, two months was nothing.
He scoffed. “What difference does that make?”
I opened my mouth to speak and then shut it again. Nothing I was going to say right now would change this situation. Yes, Adrienne was cheating on him—but he didn’t know that. Yes, he and I had a much stronger connection. And we had known each other for much longer. But to Drew, that wasn’t enough to justify cheating on his girlfriend—a fact that made me both love and hate him all at once. My stomach twisted. I’d
been turned down before. Not for sex—not for a date—shit, not even for a small favor. I thought about what I must look like—the messy hair, the smeared makeup, my puffy eyes—my chest grew tight and I turned away from him. I couldn’t allow him to see me cry again.
“Monica, please don’t be upset. I just—” His voice dropped out.
“You just can’t do that to her. I know. I get it.” I snorted and wiped my eyes as secretly as I could. “It’s fine, Drew.” I shrugged but didn’t turn around, slipping my shirt back on over my head. From the rustling noise behind me, it sounded as though he was doing the same. It felt as though a hippo had sat down on top of my chest and refused to move, the weight of it slowly crushing me.
A hand rested on my upper arm in soft, reassuring strokes.
I couldn’t turn around yet. It hurt too much. I didn’t want to see his pitying stare. “I’m sorry—” My voice was slowly becoming more steady. I didn’t want to give up on Drew yet. Not when we only had a limited time to be together. One of two things was going to happen—either my powers would be restored or I would die. Either way, I wouldn’t get the man. And that bitch, Adrienne, sure as Hell didn’t deserve him. And maybe I didn’t either, but I would not rest until he knew the truth about her. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” I pushed my sadness aside to make room for a new calm, assertive energy. “And I definitely don’t want you to regret something that could be so amazing.” I turned to face him, not caring as much about my splotchy cheeks anymore. “Because it would have been. Amazing.”
He nodded. “I know.” His knuckle brushed across my jawline, picking up a stray tear that had fallen. He held the tear up to my lips. “
Kiss your tear. And forever it will disappear
. Something my mother used to say to me long ago.”
The hint of a smile curved my lips and I lowered them to his finger. My tear was wet and salty. Its taste lingered on my mouth like a ghost.
“Know what you need?” His voice perked up, putting on a happy face for me.
“A glass of wine and a strong vibrator?”
He laughed at that. “Well, maybe,” he said, “but I was thinking more along the lines of an evening out at my church’s event. There will be dancing and drinks. It’ll be fun.”
It was my turn to laugh. “You are all about getting me laid tonight, aren’t you?”
“Not laid. I just want to see you happy.”
Sighing, I couldn’t help the small moan that escaped from my mouth. “I think I’ll stick to my vibrator. I never have to worry about lulling conversations or awkward mornings after with her.”
“Aw, c’mon.” He sat down on his desk, crossed his feet at the ankles, and nudged me with an elbow. “It would be good for you to be around people tonight.” Another pause. “Besides, what about Wills? Could he come, too?”
Shit. I totally kept forgetting about Wills. Probably a bad sign, right? “Right. Wills. We’re supposed to meet for drinks tonight.”
“Bring him along to go dancing. It’ll be fun.”
I smiled, getting up to head toward the door. “We’ll see.”
“Monica?” he asked. I paused but didn’t answer him. “We’re okay, right?”
I nodded before opening the door and slipping out. I only had a few hours to find Adrienne and prove to Drew that his girlfriend was a lying, cheating bitch.
here were only a handful of things I knew about Adrienne. (1) She worked as a cocktail waitress at a Hooters-like pit downtown. It was known to be a meeting place for a certain infamous Latino gang. (2) She loved to shop at Toyland Gifts—the cheapest adult toy store in town. Believe me, there were high-class places to get your bedroom accessories—Toyland was not one of them. (3) I knew she was cheating on Drew . . . but I had no idea with whom.
Not only this, but I had no more invisibility—no more powers to disguise myself—and had little choice but to find these facts on my own.
As I exited the coffee shop, the Newton’s Cradle in my bag started going nuts, clicking with fury. As I got closer to my car, I saw Julian leaning against the passenger side door. I smiled—Jules could always make me smile. Though the feeling was not always reciprocated, as I could tell by the grim expression on his face. “Back so soon?” I tucked a frizzy stray hair behind my ear.
“I wanted to see you again”—a smile flickered across his eyes—“as your friend.”
I crossed my arms, pressing my breasts together. “Friends? Since when are you back to being my friend?”
He pushed off my Toyota and stepped closer to me. “As a mortal, you’re technically no longer a succubus. It’s easier to be your friend when you’re not... ‘feeding’ off my Heaven-bound souls.” He used air quotes to emphasize the word.
feed off of moral men. I leave your people alone.”
“I know.” His eyes twinkled and he stayed silent, watching me in a quiet regard. After another moment, he continued. “But it’s still hard to watch. Even though I know you’re trying to be as good as you can, your behavior is still . . . painful for me to see.” His crystal blue eyes glistened. Blue like ice. Eyes so deep, I could swan dive right into the center of them.
The lump in my chest shifted to my throat. “So . . . you came to tell me . . .
“I just wanted to remind you that your slate has been wiped clean now that you’re back to being mortal.”
mortal,” I interjected.
He ignored my interruption. “But if something were to happen to you—that is, if you were to die, there’s always the chance you could be forgiven.” He put two hands on my shoulders. They were sturdy and reassuring. “Monica the succubus’s soul was scarred. Monica the mortal is not yet tainted.”
I shifted my feet, a little thrown off by his sudden change of attitude. The way he stared through me sent a chill up my spine. I shrugged his hands off of me despite their reassuring touch. “Are you telling me that if I die, there’s a chance I could go back to being an angel?”
He looked as if I had struck him across the face when I moved away from his touch. “Not exactly. I don’t know if they’d allow you to be an angel again . . . but they may let you back into Heaven.” He took another step closer and rested his forehead to mine. “You could come back to me.”
I wrapped my arms around him, allowing the embrace; letting it warm me, encompass me. “But Mia said that death would mean a complete lack of existence.”
Jules scoffed at that. “Mia has no idea what would happen to you if you were to die now. Nobody knows, really, what happens to the souls of immortals when they perish.”
I pushed away from him for the second time in only a few minutes, my eyes searching his for answers. “So what are you telling me? Should I end my life here on Earth as a chance to get back into Heaven?”
“Of course not.” He chuckled at the absurdity of the suggestion. Heaven 101 is that you cannot take your own life. His eyes remained closed and he pulled me back into him for another small embrace. It was in no way sexual—a rare feeling for me to be held by a man whose erection wasn’t pressing into me. “That would be a sin. But keep your soul clean. In case you do pass—you’d at least have a chance for salvation.”
He was the one to pull away this time. His hand still in mine, he turned to leave.
“Wait!” I clenched my hand around his before he could disappear. “You said you can be my friend while I’m no longer a succubus, right?”
He paused before answering. “I could always have been your friend. I chose to stay away.”
“Then stay with me today. Help me do a little sleuthing. It would be nice to have the company.”
Eyes narrowing, he studied my face. “What kind of sleuthing?”
“Drew’s girlfriend is cheating on him. I need to find out who with.”
“Because Drew is a great man. Too good to be wasted on a woman who doesn’t appreciate him.” I knew he could see through my slim reasoning.
“And you’re the woman who would appreciate him, right?” His face was soft despite his pain.
I nodded. “You said yourself, God doesn’t punish love.”
“How do you know she is adulterous?”
I made a noise like air escaping from a leaky tire. “Have you seen Adrienne? Of course she’s cheating.” He said nothing, ignoring my petulant tone. “Okay, fine. Her aura was red.”
“That could be any number of things. It could be adultery. It could also be that she was around death that day. Or maybe she’s a stripper like you. The lust from the men around her could be the aura you saw.”
I knew he was right. “But—but usually, most often, you see the red aura when someone has cheated.”
“Right. So—will you help me today?”
He shrugged. “If you promise me that you will not pass judgment on Adrienne. And instead of searching for evidence of adultery, I ask that we search for the truth. Whatever that may be.”
I swear I almost vomited in my mouth a little. “Yeah. Sure. The truth.”
Which is that she’s fucking around on Drew.
With one hand, I hesitantly ran my fingers through his long blond hair, soft as feathers, brushing it back from his face. He grabbed my hand, stopping my touch sharply.
“Wait,” he said, and walked toward the back of the lot. It was then that I saw Kayce’s car parked there. He leaned down and said something to her, after which her engine purred to life. Finger to forehead, she saluted while driving past.
“Calling off the protective detail, I see.” I smirked as he approached me.
“There’s no reason for two of us to be around. I gave her the afternoon off.”
Toyland Gifts was even tackier than I remembered. Cheap, plastic, battery-operated toys lined the walls. The kind of toys that break after two uses.
Julian jumped back, startled as we turned the corner and walked directly into a fake, silicone vagina. His face twisted, horrified, and he spoke through gritted teeth. “When you asked for my help, I had no idea it would involve
“If it makes you that uncomfortable, you can wait in the car.”
“It’s too hot outside.” His voice was reminiscent of a grumbling teenager.
“I’m not going to be too much longer. Just go”—I glanced around the store—“go . . . stand over by the piercing section. Not a whole lot over there to make you uncomfortable.”
Hands shoved deep into his pockets and shoulders slumped, Julian sulked over to the piercing area.
Down the aisle from where I stood was one of Toyland’s workers. An older man, maybe midforties, burly and covered in tattoos. I tried smoothing my hair with my palms before walking over to him.
“Hi there,” I said with a cheeky smirk. “I’m looking for someone.... I think she comes here quite often.”
He didn’t return my smile but didn’t walk away. “Oh yeah?” His voice was gruff.
I nodded and raised my chin confidently. “Yeah, her name is Adrienne. She’s about this tall.” I held a hand over my head. “Blond hair, usually wearing a ton of makeup.” I tried not to, but I had the feeling my sentences were tinted with my annoyance of the woman.
His eyes narrowed at me. “Yeah, I know Adrienne. What ’bout her?”
“She’s my sister.” I rolled my eyes at him as if saying
you know how that is,
but his gaze didn’t change. He maintained that cold, steel look. “I’ve been trying to find her all day. Do you know where she’d be right now?”
“If you’re her sister, why don’t you just call her?”
There was a long pause where we maintained eye contact. Finally, I returned with, “Because we had a fight. I don’t want to make up over the phone.”
His narrowed eyes softened, if only a little. He nodded, scratching at his goatee. “Let’s see. It’s Saturday, which probably means she’s at the karaoke dive with that guy she’s seeing.”
“Um, which guy is that?”
He looked confused at the question. “Same guy she’s been seeing for months. Damien. They always meet here, stand in the back corner chatting quietly. I don’t give them shit about it, since they always purchase something.”
“Right, right. Damien. So he’ll be at karaoke with her?”
He shrugged, bringing two bulging, inked shoulders up to his earlobes. “Probably. They were here not too long ago. They usually come in on Saturdays, before she sings, to pick up . . . stuff.”
Thank Hell he didn’t elaborate on what they bought together. Ick.
“Thanks a lot. Is the karaoke bar close?”
“Take a right out of here and go straight. It’ll be on your right. It’s called The Shak.”
I thanked him again, and before leaving I picked up a black wig in a bob cut. Walking to the checkout counter, I caught a glimpse of Julian, still standing next to the piercing counter, arms folded. Next to him sat a peroxide-bleached woman with tits larger than my head. She had her shirt off and was chatting to Julian as a man pierced her nipples. She had the most atrocious southern accent I’d ever heard.
“Well, I just don’t even have no feelin’ in my titties since the surgery! I just thought to myself, what a perfect time to get me that piercing I’d always wanted!”
I grabbed Julian’s elbow and pulled him away from the visual that would no doubt haunt him for the rest of his existence. After paying for my wig, we hopped back into my car, where I adjusted the black bob.
Starting the car, I looked over at Julian and raised an eyebrow. “How do I look?” I gave him a crooked smirk.
He sort of smiled back and leaned over to adjust the fake hair. “I like the blond better, but I suppose this will do.” He pinched my nose before pulling away.
It was only a short drive to The Shak, but as I pulled into a parking space, the reality of my lack of preparation flooded me with insecurities. Turning the car off, I let my head drop onto the steering wheel in defeat. “I can’t do this. Not without my powers.”
“Yes, you can. All we need is a game plan for going in there. Think. Where is Drew going to be tonight?”
“At some sort of church party.” I spoke without picking my head off the wheel.
“Okay—do you have the address for that?”
I nodded, sat up, and reached into my pocket to retrieve the scrap paper he gave me this morning.
“All right,” Julian continued. “So, we essentially need to keep you away from Adrienne because she might recognize you. But whoever her man is, that’s who you have to convince to come to the couples event. With Adrienne. Drew will have to see them together with his own eyes to believe it.”
The plan itself wasn’t so bad. “But it’s not like this dude of Adrienne’s is going to want to go to a
event at a
.” Wow, I hope I wasn’t this dense when I was an angel.
It was Julian’s turn at an eye roll. “Monica, c’mon. Seriously? You
Wow, was I dense or what? “Oh. Right. Maybe I could say it’s a swingers’ party or something. . . .”
“You’re on your own there.”
“And you could tell Adrienne about it while I convince her man—this Damien guy—to go.”
“You expect an angel to lie for you?”
“Damn, I forgot.” It’s been a while since I’d hung out with an angel. I could see him flinch out of the corner of my eye at my language. “But you can flirt with her, right? That’s not against any sort of moral angel guideline, right?”
“As long as the flirting is not a lie.”
“If that means that you have to legitimately be attracted to her to flirt, then we might have a problem.” I got out of the car with as much confidence as I could muster. “Let’s go.”
Inside The Shak was about as dirty and dusty as it was outside on our Vegas roads. My heels slid across the gritty floors, and I stepped in a very questionable puddle at the far end of the bar. I could hear Julian’s breath quicken beside me. The dank bar was definitely not his scene. I felt a sudden rush of gratitude for all that Julian was putting himself through just for me. I grabbed his hand and squeezed, stealing a sideways glance in his direction. He was staring at me in that thoughtful, sad way.
Resting one elbow on top of the bar, I kept Julian’s hand in mine. “What would you like?” I asked, slapping the counter. “Club soda? Water with lemon? Virgin rum and coke?”