Dante, the man recently revealed to be the incubus to my succubus, returned to the library before the taste of bourbon had left my lips. His brown eyes were cloudy and troubled. His usual stride, that effortless swaying of his shoulders, was gone, replaced by the walk of a man whose mind was being slowly devoured by concern and worry.
He slipped his phone into his jacket pocket, approached the table where the glass he had used sat, then poured himself another round, and took a deep drink. He turned his brown eyes on me, then on the Keeper.
“What happened?” the Keeper asked, a rogue, graying eyebrow arching. Though the Keeper, George Faraday, was an older man, he carried an air of youthfulness around him. His gray hair was as neatly and carefully trimmed as his goatee, he wore expensive cologne, and wasn’t shy of wearing jewelry.
“They’re coming,” Dante said.
“Who’s coming?” I asked.
“The mentors,” Dante said between drinks, “I’ve called them back to the mansion. They’ll be here soon, but they’ve advised us to put the mansion on lockdown.”
“A redundant request,” the Keeper said, “No one is leaving this mansion under any circumstances. Not even you, Dante.”
“I agree. As much as finding new recruits is important, so is the protection of these consecrated grounds. Why bring anyone here if we can’t offer them a safe place to stay?”
“Agreed. So, until the mentors arrive, Lilith is to be kept under supervision at all times.”
“Can we stop talking about me like I’m not here?” I asked.
“I apologize,” the Keeper said, “but we just can’t take any chances. You were almost killed, and given what we now know, we’ve been put in a position where we just can’t play fast and loose with your life.”
“So, I’m supposed to stay indoors? Until when?”
“The mentors will be returning soon. Hopefully they’ll have a little more insight, and maybe they can decide how much freedom to give you.”
“But, I mean, the person who gave me that ring, those pieces of jewelry, surely she must know something? Shouldn’t we be going back out there and trying to find her?”
“I agree,” Dante said. “But I also agree with the Keeper. You shouldn’t be leaving the mansion under any circumstances. Whoever was luring you out there wanted to make sure you didn’t have the mansion’s protection behind you. That tells us something about them.”
“It tells us whoever they are, they aren’t powerful enough to circumvent the mansion’s wards. As long as you’re in here, and you don’t wear any more of that jewelry, you should be safe.”
“Should,” I scoffed. “When has should ever worked for anyone?”
“It’ll work now. We know the jewelry was to blame, so they shouldn’t be able to get to you anymore.”
“I’m not so sure, but what the hell do I know, right?”
I turned tail and headed out of the library, heart beating hard, hands balled into fists. I didn’t want to be cooped up in the mansion for another minute, let alone a full day, not while the people who wanted to catch me alone, outside of the mansion’s protective spell radius, were still out there. What if they decided to go and hurt someone else? Some other poor, defenseless supernatural who doesn’t quite know what she is yet?
Dante called out to me, but I didn’t answer, didn’t stop, and didn’t turn back. He had pissed me off, and I wasn’t about to just cave in because he decided to call me back after the damage he had done. Of everyone in this mansion, he was the one who probably knew me best. He was the one who could have anticipated I wouldn’t be happy with the idea of being cooped up while all of this was going on, but he hadn’t, and if I could get him to live with even a sliver of guilt, I was going to.
As I turned the corner at the end of the hall that lead to the foyer and the grand staircase to the next floor, I ran right into Aiden. My hands fell upon his chest as we bumped. I stepped back quickly, pulling my hands away from his chest as if he were made of fire itself, and looked up at him.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t see you.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Are you… alright?”
“Me? I’m fine, I—” the image of our kiss came racing into the forefront of my mind. I could almost hear the whisper of the trees, could feel the bite of the frigid wind on one cheek, and the warmth of his hand on the other. Aiden’s lips had been strong; his kiss had been hot and wanting, but I had hurt him. I watched him fall all over again in my mind, and my heart wrenched for him.
“Lilith?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Sorry, I’m… just going up to my room,” I said.
Aiden began to step away, as if to head for the front door. “I’ll catch you tomorrow, then.”
He stopped. “Yeah?”
“Could we… talk?”
Aiden breathed deep, then nodded. It was now, as he stood beneath the massive chandelier in the foyer, that I noticed how pale his skin really was. It hadn’t been this pale when I first met him. No, the pallor was clearly a side effect of whatever I had done to him, a telltale mark of that vital thing—whatever it was—that I had stolen from him with my kiss.
“I’ll walk you up, we can talk on the way.” He walked over to where I stood, and we climbed the stairs together, side by side.
My body was numb. I didn’t know how to approach the topic. I had hurt him somehow. I wasn’t even entirely sure how it had all worked, or even how he felt about it. But I had hurt him, and I didn’t know how to even begin to apologize for what I had done. Instead, I nervously tucked the loose strands of hair behind my ears and walked in silence until we reached the door to my room.
I could sense his nerves mounting as we approached the door, almost as if I had been gifted with a kind of sixth sense, had tuned into the radio frequency of his emotions. I reached for the door handle, then turned to look at him.
“About…” I started to say, but I trailed off.
“It’s okay,” he said.
“You didn’t know what I was going to say.”
“I have an idea, and it’s okay.”
“But… I hurt you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, a little. Or, maybe not, I don’t know.”
“I don’t know how I feel, exactly. A little tired.”
“A lot tired,” I corrected him.
“Fine, a lot tired. But I haven’t been sleeping great, so.”
“Could we please not play down whatever it was that happened out in the garden? We don’t need to.”
Aiden nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I don’t understand it either. One second we were… kissing… and the next I was out. I don’t remember hitting the ground.”
“I hate that I did that to you.”
He placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it gently. “Hey, don’t be so harsh on yourself. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t… but it was a good kiss, and I’m sorry it ended that way.” A great kiss, I thought to myself, but I didn’t want to over play that, either.
The ghost of a smile graced his tired face. His eyes seemed to have lost a little of their brilliance, but they still burned like a smoldering fire, and staring into them still made my insides weak. He had a hold on me, this much I knew. I wasn’t sure if it was a natural attraction, or my succubus side exerting its influence over my emotions, but I wanted to take another bite out of him. I wanted a do-over, one where I wouldn’t make him pass out.
If that was even possible.
“I am too,” he said. “So, what’s the situation? You talked to Dante, I guess?”
“I can’t leave the grounds, no one can,” I said. “And we aren’t going after the woman who… you know what, I’ll let Dante explain all of that stuff. I’m confined to the mansion, though, that’s all that matters.”
“And the blackouts?”
“They should stop. I dropped the ring back in the forest somewhere, so I doubt it’ll be affecting me anymore.”
Aiden nodded. “That’s a relief, at least, and you’re in safe hands here.”
I swallowed a ball of nerves. “Are you, uh… going back to your place?”
“I think so.”
He shook his head. “No, I should.”
“Have you thought of staying here for a while? Must get lonely in that hut of yours.”
“I like it there… and I don’t think my presence here will do anyone any good.”
“You can’t know that.”
“I do. Anyway, I should get going.”
“You should get some more sleep. Maybe something to eat.”
“I promise I’ll do all of those things, now stop worrying about me. I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow.”
“Is that a promise?
“It is,” he said, nodding softly his agreement.
I opened the bedroom door, and he waited until I stepped inside. “Goodnight, Aiden,” I said.
He nodded, then turned and left. I shut the door behind him, locked it, and went over to the bed to sit down next to Morticia, who no longer seemed to want to leave the comfort of the bedroom. At least one of us would be happy sitting here all day with nothing to do. I stroked her head, and Morticia began purring loudly.
“Alright,” I said. “If I’m going to be stuck here, I may as well make the most of it, huh?”
Morticia said nothing, but shut her eyes and continued purring loudly, happy to feel my nails under her chin.
When I thought the cat had had enough, I got changed out of my clothes, put on my gray soft cotton pajama pants with a matching tank top, and grabbed one of the books Vikram had picked out of the library for me to read. I was a succubus now. I had power, but I didn’t know how to use them. I was supposed to be assigned a mentor tomorrow, and for some reason that mentor couldn’t be Dante, even though he was an incubus—the male variant of my species.
I figured getting a leg up on my reading probably wasn’t a bad idea if I wanted to impress my new mentor.