In episode 22 of In The Flesh, Susan discovers the chilling truth about what Magda Gardener and Michael were trying to steal from Chapel House.
In the Flesh is very dark paranormal erotica. When Susan Innes comes to visit her friend, Annie Rivers, in Chapel House, the deconsecrated church that Annie is renovating into a home, she discovers her outgoing friend changed, reclusive, secretive, and completely enthralled by a mysterious lover, whose presence is always felt, but never seen, a lover whom she claims is god. As her holiday turns into a nightmare, Susan must come to grips with the fact that her friend’s lover is neither imaginary nor is he human, and even worse, he’s turned his wandering eye on Susan, and he won’t be denied his prize. If Susan is to fight an inhuman stalker intent on having her as his own, she’ll need a little inhuman help.
To read the story in its entirety up to this point, follow these links to Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21.
In The Flesh Chapter 22
“I really need to go.” Michael kissed my ear and cupped my breast, thumbing the nipple that was just peeking from the cloud of geranium scented bubbles. After we’d made love, we slipped down the stone staircase to my room, which, I discovered to my delight, was just below his. He’d requested it that way. For my protection, he said, so he could get to me quickly if the need arose. And since High View was in the process of renovations, this was the best Alonso could do. Once we were back in my room, Michael had filled up the big bathtub and undressed me at his leisure, pausing to kiss and caress as necessary. Then he guided me down into the warm sudsy water and crawled in with me, to bathe me, he said — an act that was accomplished after another, less frantic, reinforcement of his mark. Warm, clean and sated, I leaned back against the humid rise and fall of his chest half dozing, trying hard to pretend that we were simply two lovers enjoying a little wet afternoon delight.
“I may be borrowing trouble,” he said, “but something doesn’t feel right. It shouldn’t have taken Magda so long to reconvene our little … reading group.” I felt his shrug against my back. “Though she’s not the kind who thinks to inform anyone of a change of plans. Still. I don’t like it. I suppose a delay could be a good sign, but I’m not an optimist when it comes to working with Magda, and certainly not where the Guardian is concerned.” Over my mild protests he stood, causing a mini tsunami of scented water, and offered me his hand.
He caught my hand and pulled it to his lips. “Are you inviting me to share your bed, Ms Innes?”
“Well I was just thinking that the mark could probably use a bit more reinforcing. Just to be sure. And, just in case you might need to get to me in a hurry or something. You understand.”
“You have a good point.” He nodded in mock seriousness.
“You have a better one.” I rubbed against him.
He groaned into my mouth in a deep lazy kiss. “As much as I’d love to discuss my point with you and give you another demonstration, I really need to find out what’s going on.” He kissed me again, giving my arse a good kneading as he shifted up tight against me, then he nipped my lower lip. “I promise we’ll continue this discussion later.” He turned to leave, then turned back to me. “I need you to stay put in your room until I com back for you. After everything that’s happened, the protective spells around this space have been reinforced to keep you safe when you’re alone. I’ll be back for you, or someone else will, shortly.” He waited until I nodded a reluctant agreement, then he left me leaning breathlessly against the edge of the door as I watched him disappear down the corridor.
As soon as he was gone, the world came rushing back. There was no more pretending that we were just ordinary lovers, there was no way to pretend anything was ordinary anymore. Fighting off the rising panic, my first thought was to boot up my laptop and document the events of the past twenty-four hours. Writing things down always helped me focus and see things more clearly – often things that had completely escaped me in the midst of the action, and I very much needed to see things more clearly right now. Then I remembered that the laptop was still in the study, where we’d all been titillated by my encounter with the Guardian. My stomach knotted at the memory. Well I fucking needed it! I couldn’t just sit around and fret. I needed to do something, anything to keep from going nuts, to keep from convincing myself that the Guardian was the love of my life and I needed to hurry back to Him. Ignoring Michael’s request, I took a deep breath, flung open the door and headed for the study. After all, the study was surely safe from the Guardian, deep in Alonso’s vampire friendly basement. I was sure I’d be fine there. The problem was I’d only been there once, and that was following Alonso’s lead. High View was a complicated maze of ruins and renovations one could easily get lost in and never be heard from again. It was the perfect hangout for a vampire and his pet succubus, I thought. Not so great for a confused writer though.
After two wrong turns and a dead end that led to a fairly creepy tunnel, I was just beginning to get seriously concerned that I might really be lost when I turned a blind corner and nearly ran into Talia. I gave a little yelp, and she responded with an amused chuckle. She was dressed in faded jeans, riding boots and a black leather jacket that hugged her perfect curves. Even in the dim light of the passage she looked terrifyingly beautiful – not like an angel. I knew very well what an angel looked like, felt like. Talia wasn’t like that at all with her waves of dark hair and red lips, with her blue eyes that looked right through you. Talia was like everything beautiful, everything desirable, everything dangerous and forbidden rolled into one breathtaking package. Christ, whatever happened to just normal everyday, sexual attraction between two ordinary human beings? I was out of my depth at every turn, and this was the safe place! I was about to apologize for being so jumpy and ask directions when she brought me up short.
“Are you looking for Magda?”
“As a matter of fact, I am.” At least I was now, now that perhaps I had someone to help me hunt her down. I asked innocently, “do you know where I can find her?” I had a few things to say to the woman and if Michael was overly protective of her, perhaps someone else could point me in the right direction.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” she said, folding her arm over mine and turning me down the hall toward the dodgy-looking tunnel. As she grabbed a Mag Light from a shelf near the entrance, I felt a tingle at the base of my spine, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the idea of entering the maw of the tunnel with a succubus I didn’t totally trust or just the fact that her hand against my bare forearm made me slightly giddy. “I would imagine you have a lot of questions for her,” she called over her shoulder as the tunnel began to narrow and she took the lead. “Not that I would expect too many answers if I were you. The bitch isn’t exactly known for her open door policy.”
“You don’t like her,” I said, scurrying to keep up with the pace of someone who was clearly familiar with the tunnel.
“I like her just fine. In fact I admire the hell out of her. But I don’t expect straight answers from her, and when she does get around to straight answers, usually I wish the hell she would have lied, but then that’s just Magda Gardener for you. Can’t say that I really blame her for trusting no one and using every resource at her disposal, and believe me, she’s got ‘em. Resources, I mean.”
“She certainly seems to have Michael by the shorthairs,” I said, stooping slightly as the tunnel narrowed still further and my heart rate accelerated accordingly.
“Hon, she has everyone by the shorthairs, even if they don’t know it.”
“Are you sure you know where she’s at?” I asked, shivering as a gossamer strand of spider web raked across my cheek.
Her chuckle was low and throaty. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to seduce you in some dark musty corner, if that’s what you’re afraid of and, as I said earlier, Alonso doesn’t feed on his guests, even uninvited ones.”
“Very happy to hear that, on both counts,” I said, raking my elbow on a rough outcropping of rock I hadn’t noticed in the wavering illumination of the Mag Light. Then I added quickly. “Michael tells me you’re his familiar – Alonso’s, I mean.”
The chuckle came again. “Oh, indeed. I’m very familiar with Alonso. I offer him blood and he reciprocates, when my energies are drained in his service. I’m his eyes in the daylight, and his flesh when he needs me to be. I add that … feminine touch to his household. I’m not his lover, though. Not now anyway. He’s head over heels for Reese, and that’s fine with me. I prefer human lovers. Their dreams are really quite … twisted, surprisingly. I know, right? Wouldn’t you think the dreams of a vampire, certainly a vampire who has been through what Alonso has would be far more exciting? But,” she turned and I suddenly found myself nose to nose with her, breathing in her cinnamon and peaches breath, “vampires and succubi and things that go bump in the night are born of the human psyche, you know. The veil between the dream world and the real world is so much thinner than anyone who hasn’t walked both could easily imagine.” She reached out and brushed a spider web from my hair. “I would think a Scribe would know that.” Then she turned and continued on.
Born of the human psyche? I wondered how that could be when Talia, Alonso, even Michael were as real and as physical as I was, but I’d save that question for later. There were more pressing ones at the moment. “So let me get this straight, you gain strength from his blood when you’ve done stuff for him, and he … feeds on you?”
She laughed out loud. “Oh honey, it’s way more than strength I gain from his blood. Taking a vampire’s blood is better than the best drug or alcohol high you can imagine. There’s nothing else like it, unless it’s to reciprocate and offer your own blood to one of their kind. Me,” she shrugged, “Well, I get my kicks mostly in other ways, and though I enjoy the exchange of blood, even need it from time to time when I’m weakened, I feed on an entirely different kind of energy.” Her gaze raked me like a physical touch and I felt my nipples harden. I caught my breath and stepped back. She just winked, then turned and walked on.
For a long time we walked on in silence, then I had to ask. “You can’t feed on the Guardian?”
“No. I have to have flesh, just as Alonso does, though for him the flesh and blood are a very physical need – different from my own. There’s a biochemical reaction that takes place in the body, in the brain when I feed, when a person dreams, when a person is aroused, when a person eats or fucks or gets excited or nervous or frightened or is satisfied in some other way. That’s just biology. I feed on that energy. Whatever it is that the Guardian may be, it’s not physical. There’s no biology where he is concerned. That’s the one thing denied him and the one thing he desires most, that physical experience, that biochemical reaction that happens when flesh meets flesh. That’s why everyone here but Alonso and Magda are vulnerable to him. Alonso is technically dead and Magda, well who the hell knows with Magda?”
“So, you can’t feed on Magda?”
The tunnel suddenly opened into a small amphitheater-like cave, and we picked our way across the rock-strewn floor, slick with dripping water and moss. At the entrance, which was well hidden from the outside by a thicket of heather and hawthorn, we looked out onto the rainy fells. “I’ve never tried to feed on Magda. Though I have to admit, she’s sexy enough; the thought of entering that woman’s dreams scares the hell out of me. Now your angel, well he’s another matter. He gave up his angelhood ages ago. Technically he’s as human as you are now, though he’s … well I suppose you could say he’s enhanced. But, as I’m sure you know, the biochemistry is all there in spades. Him I could feast on quite happily, and the two of you together, oh well, that thought positively makes me wet with anticipation. If ever you’re open for a little ménage, Hon, I promise I’ll make it well worth your while.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I hated to admit it, but after my experience with the succubus, the thought made me wet too. I quickly changed the subject. “So, Magda is flesh and blood, then, and the … biochemistry is all there, but for whatever reason, you’re scared of her and the Guardian wants nothing to do with her?”
“That’s pretty much it, yes. Not sure why the Guardian doesn’t like her, but I have a feeling that one taste of her energy would fry my circuits permanently. Might well be worth the risk, but I’m not that fucking brave. As for the whys of it all, well I’m not sure even she fully understands, and if you’re brave enough to ask, well go for it, chick, that’s all I can say.”
I would be brave enough to ask, I thought. I needed to understand who the hell this woman was if my life and the life of my best friend and my lover were in her hands. I needed to know if I could trust her. But even if I couldn’t, it really didn’t matter at this point. She was all we had. “Is she really a thief?” I asked.
“A thief?” The resulting belly laugh surprised me, and I waited impatiently while Talia regained control, wiping tears from the corner of her eyes, still chuckling when she was finally able to respond. “ I suppose now that you mention it, that’s exactly what she is, but on a scale that would take your breath away little Scribe.” She nodded to what looked like a ramshackle shepherd’s bothy half hidden in a wooded copse. “She’s in there.” She slipped out of her jacket and handed it to me. “Trust me. You’re gonna need this. Magda isn’t big on creature comforts when she’s practicing her magic.”
I shivered from something other than cold as I shoved my way into the black leather jacket warm from the succubus’ body and redolent with her musky, peachy, cinnamon scent. “So what did she send Michael to Chapel House to steal? I mean seriously, wasn’t she afraid something like this might happen with the Guardian if they started mucking about?”
I suddenly found myself in the woman’s hard blue gaze. She looked at me as though I were some new life form she was only seeing for the first time. “The Guardian was already released when she sent Michael to play cat burglar. Didn’t you know?”
“Me? How the hell would I know? I knew nothing about any of this until Michael rescued me from my butcher-knife wielding best friend.”
“Sweetie,” she stepped closer and pushed the hair back behind my ears in a gesture that sent tingles down my spine, her gaze suddenly softened to something that resembled sympathy. “Didn’t you know?”
“Know what?” The tingle became an icy chill. “Know what?”
Talia gave a quick glance out at the bothy and then squared her shoulders as though she had just made a major decision. “Magda commissioned Michael to … to steal you.”
“What?” I suddenly felt as insubstantial as the spider webs clinging to the ceiling. “What the fuck’s that supposed to mean, she hired Michael to steal me. I’m a person, not an object. She can’t steal me. And neither can he,” I added trying to keep the hurt from my voice.
“Oh she can, and she will. She has stolen more people than you can easily imagine, Hon. Michael’s one of them. And Michael, well he’ll happily aid her because he wants you almost as badly as she does. Maybe more so considering the power of his mark on your body. I can feel it from anywhere in High View. Shouldn’t doubt that I could still feel it all the way to Penrith.”
“Why?’ The word came out sounding entirely too much like a sob.
released the Guardian but a Scribe and not even every Scribe could have done what you did. That’s the only explanation for his return to the world of the living. It didn’t take Magda and Michael long to put two and two together. They knew your friend wasn’t a Scribe, and they knew that the Guardian was already feasting on her. Remember Magda rescued Michael from the Guardian, and together they imprisoned him. They both understand the way it is with him. You’re what he’s after. Your friend is just a little snack. He knows what you are as well as they do. You hold his future in your hands, and he knows it. That makes you far too valuable for them not to steal you away.”