For MRF, on the occasion of (soon to be) ten years
No writer manages to create a book alone. Many wonderful people have helped me with their knowledge and concern, their support and their unstinting advice—this book never could have been written without them!
Thanks are due to Sheeri Cabral for making an introduction, Cecilia Tan, Vandana Singh, and Sarah Smith for writer geeking on the finer points, and Karen Marcovici for shelter and research assistance.
A very special thank you to Aaron Macks for Akkadian. I have never met Aaron except by e-mail, and he has answered endless questions very quickly with amazing patience. Any mistakes are clearly my own.
Venice is my favorite city to visit in the world. I love living in New York, but when I’ve been scared and hurt and need to hide and heal, Venice is where I want to go. The constant presence of the water calms me, and many of my happiest memories were made here. After the second love of my life dumped me unceremoniously on a Sunday morning, my best girlfriends bought me a first-class ticket to Venice.
Even better, they called my boss and arranged a week off, even though I had only recently returned from a long weekend in Aruba. Fortunately, I had been on top of things at work, where I am the accessories editor at a fashion magazine.
magazine. I am the accessories editor for
a magazine that real women all over the world rely on to find clothes and looks that those of us who are not Paris Hilton can afford and wear. But I had already put together my Accessories pages for the next two months. I had my special feature on shawls in with a writer and at the fashion houses who would provide samples so I could take the week off and not worry about deadlines.
I was looking in the window of a jewelry shop on the Rialto Bridge when my Treo rang. It was the middle of the night in Venice, but it was late afternoon in New York. Fortunately, the shops on the Rialto are open late and hordes of tourists keep the narrow streets around the great stone bridge vibrant and safe.
The caller was Danielle, the shoe editor at work. “Lily, when are you coming back?” she wailed.
“What’s the problem?” I asked. Danielle is my best friend at work, and since she does shoes and I do accessories, we’re natural allies. She’s French and has great respect for the brokenhearted, and she strongly encouraged me to leave New York and try to find some pleasure elsewhere in the world.
“Lawrence Carroll is making me crazy,” she sobbed. “You must talk to him. He is insane. Please, Lily, I tell myself over and over that I must not kill him, that I look dreadful in orange and a jumpsuit wouldn’t suit me at all.”
“What’s the problem, Danielle? What specific nutcase thing has he done this time?” I had to keep her focused on the single event or else I would never get to the bottom of this. And much as I did not want to talk to Lawrence Carroll, or remember his existence, I owed Danielle in a major way for covering for me.
“He is arranging a feature on the white shirt for fall, the one that he has talked about ever since he arrived,” she said, half sobbing. I knew the feature. We all knew in great detail far more than we ever wanted to know about Lawrence Carroll and white shirts for fall. “He is crazy,” Danielle whispered. “He has taken every belt in the building and laid them all out across the corridors and he’s screaming the whole time. And no one can walk anywhere. If we try to pick up a belt he screams to put it down and that no one can touch any of them and that they’re all ugly and that it’s all our fault that he can’t find the belts he wants. I think Mary Elizabeth will push him out the window soon. I wish to assist her.”
“Can you put him on?” I asked.
“I do not know,” Danielle whispered. “He is insane. He may stab me, I think. I suggested a very nice pair of Donna Karan boots and he waved a letter opener in my face and said I was his enemy. Because I am French and he is British and we never stopped fighting over Agin-court and he doesn’t know if he hates us or Americans more. The interns have locked themselves in the ladies’ room, including Robbie. If you cannot talk to him we will have to call the police and have the hostage rescue team come in.”
I thought that might be overstating the case, but maybe not. Lawrence Carroll came to us from
magazine’s London office, and prima donna didn’t even begin to describe him. Which was weird, because his old colleagues in London said he was a great guy, easy to work with, and supportive of the team. Maybe they’d just wanted to be rid of him.
“Okay, I’ll do what I can. Is he in his office?” I asked.
“Yes. Oh, thank you, Lily, you are the only one he will listen to. Especially about the belts. Once we have chosen the belts, then he will understand the shoes. He will agree. The interns will unlock the toilet and the rest of us will be able to pee.”
Being French, Danielle has no inhibitions talking about bodily functions. This often upsets the interns even more than a fashion editor going slightly psychotic, but I was used to it.
“I’ll try to talk to him, Danielle. Just give me a minute, okay?”
I was standing on a bridge leaning on a wide marble ledge, no longer occupied by the display of delicate gold earrings. I took the stairs down to the street and chose one of the several bars because I really wanted to sit down. My very elegant pink D&G stilettos looked wonderful but my toes felt like they were on fire and the rest of my feet were identifying with the Christian saints. The ones who are regularly shown with implements of excruciating martyrdom. If I am ever depicted with the instrument of my torment, it will be a gloriously beautiful designer shoe with a four-and-a-half-inch heel and narrow straps.
My feet were ready to go on strike, I was on vacation, and now I had to talk to a drama queen fashion editor having a hissy fit. I needed a drink as well as a chair and a quiet corner.
I sat, ordered Campari and soda and an ice cream before I hit the address book in the Treo. It was barely after lunch in New York. I waited for my drink and eased my feet out of my shoes gently, not taking them off entirely but lifting just a bit so that the pressure of the straps eased.
The phone rang in New York while an attractive waiter in an ankle-length apron served my drink with a flourish. “Hello?” Lawrence said, his voice full of suspicion.
“Hello, Lawrence,” I said as cheerfully as I could manage. “Danielle told me there was some issue about belts for the white shirt shoot.”
“Issue? There’s no issue, there’s bloody world war three going on in here! I cannot find One. Single. Belt. That gives the right look, the right message. And you are on the other side of the pond and doing no fucking good to anyone.”
I sighed. “Of course, Lawrence. You had talked to me about the feature before I left, and I pulled the belts for it. There are a few nice pieces by Coach and a Kate Spade that will be just right for jeans, and a darling Kenzo for the edgier look. They’re all in my office in a box labeled Lawrence on the top shelf over my computer.”
“How did you know what I wanted?” Lawrence asked, paranoia dripping through all five thousand miles of the connection.
“You told me when we first discussed the feature in February,” I reminded him. “So I pulled the belts then.”
“Why did you do that?” Lawrence asked.
“Because that is my job,” I said slowly, enunciating every word.
There was a pause that might have been transmission or might have been Lawrence’s brain engaging. “I am going now to look for this box. I’ll look in it. If there’s a problem I’ll call you, and I expect there to be a problem. There is not one single bloody belt in this entire benighted country that will make the statement I want.”
I caught the waiter’s eye and pointed to my nearly empty glass. I was definitely going to need more alcohol to get through a Lawrence debacle. “Go and look. And if you see things you like, call me back, right away, okay? Because it’s the middle of the night here and I’m going to go to sleep soon.”
He hung up without a good-bye. I called Danielle and told her the potentially good news. She had some reservations but reported Lawrence walking down the hall and entering my office. No explosion followed.
* * *
If I could deliver Lawrence I would. It would be a blessing to all of New York and probably London as well, though his old office said he was a great guy. Best guess is that they lied. And I wouldn’t even mind covering up the consequences; unlike my coworkers, I know how to clean a crime scene and I would have no guilt whatsoever in making sure Lawrence arrived on Satan’s doorstep ASAP.
Except he was the only kind of man I couldn’t seduce and eliminate. Lawrence was gay.
I truly regretted that incubi and succubi do not get along. The split had been old when I’d been recruited. Anyone reasonable would think that we’d have a lot in common and would benefit in sharing. I certainly thought so, and I wasn’t the only succubus who held that opinion. And if there were a number of succubi who agreed, there would have to be incubi on the other side who thought that an alliance would be better than current hostilities. Because if I could talk to an incubus then Lawrence would get what he so deeply deserves, and sooner rather than later. I’d so completely vote for sooner.
I sipped my second drink and contemplated a post to MagicMirror about incubi and succubi. The more I thought about it, the better the idea seemed.
The Treo cut short my rumination. It was Lawrence, sounding suspicious. “The belts were there. You’re right, they are the ones I want. Especially the Kate Spade. But you should know I don’t trust you, Lily. No one should be able to pick out just what I want before I’ve even seen them. Are you sure you’re really American? No one in this atrocious excuse for a country has any sense of style.”
“I’m glad you like my selections, Lawrence. Always a pleasure.” And I hung up.
Danielle text messaged a discreet thank-you and I acknowledged and turned the Treo off before I threw it back into my bag.
The second drink made me mellow. I wondered if anyone had posted anything interesting on MagicMirror while I’d been away. I couldn’t access the demon blog from any computer but my own, or one set up for the Underworld. I no longer had the contacts in Venice, and while I could have made some I was here to get away. Away from my real life and especially away from Nathan.
The first love of my life, Niccolo, had been found floating under one of the ubiquitous arched bridges right here in Venice. He had been murdered and no one had ever found out why. Maybe it was an opera rivalry, or maybe politics involving his patron, the Count. Though that had happened back in 1727, it felt very new.
I had not fallen in love again until last month, when I’d met Nathan Coleman. He had black hair and brilliant blue eyes and a love of ancient history. After almost three hundred years I had begun to trust a man, enjoy his company.
I thought things were good between us. Things had been good between us—until Nathan dumped me. Because I am a succubus. Because I showed him Hell to prove it, introduced him to Mephistopheles and Satan and showed him the souls in torment. He loved me, I was certain of that, but he’d freaked. He couldn’t handle my immortality, and he couldn’t handle the fact that I damn men to Hell for eternity.
I couldn’t entirely blame him.
Still, in three thousand years I had only fallen in love twice.
I wasn’t enjoying the café anymore, so I paid my bill and walked back to my hotel. My feet had rested enough not to protest the heels and the straps. Looking beautiful had again trumped comfort, and it wasn’t that far to Apostoli.
My hotel, the Giorgione, didn’t have the opulence or levels of service I used to enjoy at the Danieli, but it was quiet and the staff were genuinely hospitable and warm. My room was quite pleasant in the overdecorated and ridiculously gilded manner of the city. The double bed, covered in green brocade, ruled in splendor behind two golden twisted pillars. I felt sorry for myself again, seeing that bed and knowing that no one would share it with me. I did not want to bring back prey, not to my temporary little lair. No, I wanted Nathan.
For all that he’d left me and run, I missed him. I wanted him. And I was furious at him for not being able to accept the realities of my life. I’d accepted them for three thousand years. The least he could do was make an effort.
The anger at Lawrence merged with fury at Nathan’s betrayal and I sat enthroned in the center of my green brocade bed and seethed.
Which was not a very satisfying activity.
I was too awake to go to sleep and too angry to do anything fun or useful. I’d already hunted once and wasn’t up for going out again. So I pulled on my Citizen jeans and my extralarge No Rest for the Wicked tee shirt and went down to the hotel computer room. It was late enough that the computer was free and no one was playing pool or cards. I signed in to Worlds of Warcraft and blew things up for a few hours, which made me feel much better. By the time the sun rose I was ready to call it a night.