"Lovely. We're back to where we started."
"I don't know. We should just take this one step at a time. Let's keep trying to find him and figure out where the other half of the seal is."
"We're running out of time," I murmured, stubbing out the cigarette.
"So, why are you smoking again?"
"That's not really important right now," I snapped.
"I don't know. If I had a mortal body, I'd be kind of worried about that."
"I'm not mortal. And I'll be back to my normal self in a few days at most. Probably much sooner."
"Is it because of Mortensen?"
"We are not talking about that right now."
"Never thought you'd be one to take a break-up so hard, seeing how easily you deal them out. In fact...has anyone ever even broken up with you before?"
I fixed him with a glare, so annoyed that I didn't care if he wanted to try to kill me. "We are not talking about that right now."
"Fine, fine. What other info do we have, then?"
I racked my brain. "The cult...the Army of Darkness. I think there's a connection with Jerome's summoning and their activities. Whoever's controlling them-well, Grace, I guess-times their stunts to take attention away from other things." I recapped what I knew of their stunts and what they lined up with. "Not all of their activities correspond exactly to some part of the summoning, though. At least not that I know about."
Roman was thoughtful. "Hmm...well, it's possible some may not line up with anything. A few may be red herrings, sort of to establish their presence. I didn't always follow you to Canada, so I don't know exactly what they're like."
"Wow. Your stalkerdom has limitations."
"Seemed like a big pain," he said. "Aside from maybe going to Tim Hortons."
Nephilim couldn't teleport like greater immortals, so he was limited with normal transportation when following me around. Uneasily, thinking of my activities with Seth, I wondered just how much Roman had spied on me. It wouldn't have been the first time he'd taken a front-row seat to my intimate activities. If he wasn't going to mention it, I wasn't going to.
"They've been quiet ever since the day of the summoning, when they were down here. I guess Grace has nothing left for them to do," I said.
"Likely..." His mind was still apparently spinning with suspicion. "But if I were you, I'd talk to them again."
I cringed. "No...I want to be done with them. You don't know these guys like I do. It's ridiculous."
"All I know is that you've got to turn over every rock you can find-no pun intended-if you're going to rescue Jerome."
"Oh, I've got to, huh?" I asked. I didn't really like the presumption in his voice. "I thought you were going to help find him too?"
"I will. Tomorrow. When are you going to search again?"
I thought about it. "Noon. After work."
There was a knock at the door, and I moved over to the eye hole. "It's Dante," I murmured. To his credit, he usually knocked first before using his key. I rested my hand on the knob and gave Roman a questioning look.
"I'll find you at noon," he said. "Hold the door open a sec after you let him in."
Roman turned invisible, and I pulled the door open. Dante came in, and I stood there a few more moments until I felt the sweep of someone moving past me. Everything had happened so quickly today that I barely had time to realize that not only I had just made contact with the guy who wanted to kill me, but I'd also just made arrangements to spend time with him. Man. This was going to keep me up when I tried to sleep later.
I shut the door and gave Dante a quick kiss on the cheek. He was carrying a bag, and I had to do a double-take.
"Did you buy something from Macy's?" I exclaimed. "I somehow imagined you stepping into a department store would be like a vampire stepping into the sunlight-I mean, current situation aside."
Dante rolled his eyes and set the bag down. Crossings his arms, he leaned against the wall. "Well, maybe I'm in stasis too. Forget about this for a sec and tell me if you've gotten yourself on any demon's shit list today." There it was again, the sweet concern in spite of his best efforts.
"Not that I know of, but hey, the day's not over yet."
I glossed over the specifics of who I'd gone searching with, mainly emphasizing that my time at the beach hadn't turned up anything. I also mentioned Cedric's visit and his claims that he hadn't told Nanette about my suspicions. Dante seemed skeptical of that. Finally, I wrapped up with Grace's appearance, and at that point I faltered. I wanted to tell Dante about my amazing discovery, about how Grace had the seal. Yet Roman had urged me to keep it all to myself. Why? Was he really that mistrustful of everyone? Did he have his own ulterior motives? Against my better judgment, I bit my lip on telling Dante about my discovery. It killed me to do it, particularly since I had a feeling Dante could have some insight. Roman's warning was too strong, however, as was my fear that he might actually still be around invisibly. And of course, I could hardly tell Dante about Roman.
Fortunately, Dante didn't pick up on any omission of information. "You had kind of a full day, succubus. Did the corporate demon ever come talk to you?"
"Not yet. I haven't had a chance to talk with the gang to see if he's been making the rounds." I eyed the Macy's bag, dying to know what was in it.
Dante kicked it behind him. "What are you going to tell him?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. I'll tell him what I know about Seattle, and as far as recommendations...well, I don't know." I could no longer trust Grace, and Mei's role was still a mystery. Dante noted my change of feelings but not the reasons.
"From what you'd said before, I thought you were a fan of Grace and that other demoness."
"Mei," I supplied. "I don't know. It's all just wearying." Eager to shift away from the subject, I pointed at the bag. "Are you going to tell me what's in that?"
He gave me one of his mocking grins. "Why do you think it has anything to do with you?"
"Because there's no way you'd shop at Macy's for yourself. You dress only marginally better than Carter."
Dante shook his head, wearing a long-suffering look. "Fine, fine. I'll keep it for myself." He picked up the bag and headed off down the hall. After a few moments, I followed and tackled him in the doorway to my bedroom.
"Come on! Give it up." I snatched the bag away, but my victory was small since he didn't put up a fight. I opened it up and gasped at what I found. Folds and folds of shimmering purple fabric, silk the color of new spring crocuses. Hesitantly, I lifted it out of the bag, revealing a long, ankle-length robe. I looked up at him in astonishment. "What's this?"
"You're the one with years and years of higher learning," he pointed out, looking extremely pleased with himself. "You tell me."
I held it up, gauging its height. It looked just about perfect. "It's gorgeous. What's the occasion?"
"I was tired of hearing you bitch about that ratty one you've got. And tired of seeing it, to be honest." He ignored my glare. "Besides, you've had a, uh, difficult time lately. Even for you."
I thought back to other things, like the flowers and breakfast. All the attempts at dinners. "Dante-"
He pressed a finger to my lips. "Look, be quiet a second. I'm not blind. I can tell how much all of this is stressing you out. And f**k, if I could get my hands on that bitch demon..." Anger glinted in his eyes, and he took a moment to shake it off. "Anyway, you can keep making your jokes or whatever and keep doggedly doing your best to sleuth away and find Jerome, but you're running yourself into the ground. You're depressed. You're distracted. When we talk, it's like your mind's somewhere else. Same with our sex life."
I opened my mouth to argue, but I wasn't sure what to say. He was right. I had been distracted, but a good part of that-particularly during intimate activities-hadn't had anything to do with Jerome. It had been Seth on my mind. Dante kept speaking before I could get a word out.
"See, now, you're going to apologize. Because that's what you do-but there's no need, succubus. If anyone gets some selfish time right now, it's you. In another week or so, things'll be back to normal, and I'll be the selfish one."
Something in my heart twisted. Everyone said he was scum, but in the end, it turned out I was the untrustworthy one. I averted my eyes.