Harrods was busy this close to Christmas, with people bustling around in search of the perfect gift. There was currently a pop-up booth of luxury watches that had attracted several well-to-do women, all looking for something to buy their husbands, and the gift wrapping station had a line halfway to Leeds.
Harriet Dowling stepped neatly around both the pop-up and the gift wrapping line. She wasn’t here to shop for her husband.
No, she was engaging in a bit of much-needed retail therapy, the only kind of therapy she allowed herself since the one time she’d brought up couple’s counseling and Thaddeus had earnestly asked her to consider what the State Department would think if they had to bill it to the insurance. Since that was how he wanted it, she had resolved to spend his money on other things. Namely the Chanel Boutique on the fifth floor. It had been awhile since she’d changed up her makeup. Maybe some lipstick would make her feel better about life.
After an exorbitant makeup tutorial that gave her a tasteful daytime smoky eye and a bag full of skin care products, she popped down to the second floor where the women’s clothing was located. Alexander McQueen was always a hit with the British society ladies; if Kate Middleton wore it, then it was good enough for Harriet Dowling.
And if she cast a longing glance at a black Balenciaga dress that was just the right slide of slutty, then no one had to know but her.
She took her selection of silk blouses, pencil skirts, and sheath dresses to the fitting room, already debating how much more time she would have to shop before the bespoke tailor closed for the day.
“—honestly, my dear, I can’t see why you can’t simply buy your trousers downstairs. The pockets are ridiculous on these things!”
“It’s called fashion, angel, and even if it’s news to you, it’s progressed since 1890.”
“Shame. I rather like a good crinoline.”
Harriet frowned as she pulled off her cashmere sweater and slipped into the first of the dresses. That voice sounded so familiar...
“Right. I’m coming out, and you’d best keep your hands to yourself.”
God, to be that couple. She felt her mouth twist bitterly and listened to the creak of the other fitting room door.
“Oh,” came the breathed judgment. “Oh, my dear, you look lovely.”
“Not bad, hm? You don’t think it’s too saucy to wear to the opera, do you?”
“I think you’ll look scrumptious.”
Harriet decided to break up this party before she had to listen to them fuck in the fitting room. Harrods wasn’t usually the kind of place where one expected outrageous flirting. She opened the door and stepped out, ready to take her navy blue dress, with its subtle tweed and exquisite pleats, to the three way mirror, and stopped dead.
That was her nanny. Her son’s dowdy, sunglasses-wearing nanny, who dressed like a Victorian dominatrix and towered over both Harriet and Thaddeus. And she was wearing the slutty Balenciaga gown that Harriet hadn’t had the courage to try on herself.
“Oh my God,” she heard herself say.
The nanny and her gentleman friend both turned to her, surprise blooming across their faces.
“Oh shit,” said the gentleman friend, which was rich coming from the human incarnation of a marshmallow.
“Mrs. Dowling!” exclaimed the nanny, and Harriet could have sworn she’d had an English accent a minute ago. “What a pretty dress! So good to see you, dear. Francis and I were just—”
“Francis?” asked Harriet blankly, and the gentleman friend winced. “You mean that’s our gardener?”
“Former,” said the nanny smoothly. Her name was right at the tip of Harriet’s tongue; it was bothering her that she couldn’t think of it.
That was right, they’d both put their notices in only a week or two before Warlock’s birthday. God, it was annoying that she couldn’t remember. Maybe she was cracking. Let’s see Thaddeus try to deal with a crazy wife. Now that thought made her smile. Maybe she could be Mrs. Rochester, trapped in the attic like a ball and chain and keeping Thaddeus from his boob job bottle-blonde Jane Eyre.
“I like the dress,” she said without thinking.
The nanny glanced down at it. “Thank you.”
“Which opera are you going to see?” She really should shut up and go back in her fitting room. Give them a chance to escape their former employer who now knew they went to the opera and flirted in fitting rooms. Lord, Francis cleaned up nicely. Who’d have guessed he was so freaking adorable under those bad eyebrows and the truly horrifying teeth?
“Turandot,” Francis told her. “We haven’t seen it in ages.”
“Not since Pavarotti put Nessun Dorma on the map.” Nanny absently smoothed her hands down the front of the dress; Harriet noticed—not for the first time—that she had absolutely huge hands. Unusually big, for a woman, with long, elegant fingers. Did she play the piano? Harriet couldn’t remember if she played the piano.
“That really is a killer dress,” she caught herself saying again.
They both paused. Barely; not enough to be obvious or rude about it, but Harriet was a politician in her own right, and she caught it. She was mentioning the dress too much. She was making it weird.
God, this was mortifying. She could feel her face heating up, and she opened her mouth to tell them she was going back into her fitting room.
Then Nanny said, “I bet if we looked they would have one in your size, dear. Angel, would you go be a love and check?”
“I couldn’t possibly—”
Francis gave Nanny an absolutely besotted smile. “Of course, my dear,” he said, and vanished.
“I have nowhere to wear a dress like that,” Harriet protested. And she wasn’t tall and statuesque, with strong shoulders and surprisingly delicate wrists either. “It’ll look ridiculous on me.”
“I very much doubt that,” said Nanny briskly. “You’ve a lovely figure, dear. And as for an occasion to wear it—” She grinned suddenly. Her teeth were very white and seemed a little too sharp. “You can simply create your own.”
Harriet was trying to think of how to respond to that when Francis bustled back in. He held up a dress. “This ought to do it,” he said, beaming at Harriet and handing the dress to her.
God, it had no back. There was no way to wear a bra with this. Maybe that looked good on Nanny, who barely had any tits to speak of, but Harriet was far more well-endowed. She chewed her lip. “I don’t have the right undergarments,” she tried to hedge.
“Did you check your fitting room?” asked Nanny dryly. “Never know what people will leave behind. Honestly, it’s getting as bad as Tesco these days.” She raised her eyebrows.
Harriet narrowed her eyes in return. Something was very weird here.
When she looked inside her fitting room, there was a bustier that definitely hadn’t been there before. She picked it up suspiciously and stared at it. It was her size, just like the dress.
“Okay, what the hell?” she muttered, less surprised than she really ought to be. Now that she thought about it, things like this were always falling into place with those two around.
“Did you find anything?” called Francis, sounding delighted.
“Wouldn’t you know? I did,” she called back dryly.
“Good. Then try the dress on and let’s see.” Nanny’s voice wasn’t sharp, exactly, but it was clear there wasn’t going to be any argument tolerated.
Harriet swallowed. Then she reached back and unzipped the navy tweed dress, letting it slide off her body and puddle on the floor. She unhooked her bra next, hanging it on the hook and shivering when she slipped the silky bustier over her skin. And then she slipped on the dress.
For a moment, she just stared at her reflection. It hardly looked like her, honestly. The smoky eye, the dewy lip, the dress that clung to her curves like water. She blinked, and noticed the way it hugged her belly.
“Let’s see then,” came Nanny’s voice, and Harriet wilted.
“It looks better on you,” she said in a small voice. “You’re tall and thin.”
“You’re halfway to wraithlike, dear, I’ve watched you diet for years,” said Nanny impatiently.
“Yeah, but—” She’d had a baby, after all. And how could she possibly forget that things were never the same after that, when all the women in her social circle talked about it constantly?
“Oh, for—come out here,” Nanny snapped.
Harriet’s face felt warm, but there really wasn’t any getting out of it. She opened the door and stepped out, avoiding their eyes.
“Why, you look beautiful!” sighed Francis, and he sounded so sincere that Harriet almost believed him.
“Thank you,” she muttered, wrapping her arms around her middle.
Nanny was giving her a critical look. “This isn’t a dress to curl up in, you know,” she said, crossing her arms.
Harriet, bizarrely, felt the need to apologize. “Sorry, it just—clings.” She flapped a hand across her midsection while keeping it covered with her other one.
“Yes,” said Nanny slowly, “it does cling. That’s rather the point.”
Harriet shrugged. “Not sure it’s my style.”
Nanny reached out and gently pried her hand off her stomach. “Come on, stand up straight.”
Harriet bit her lip, but it was hard to argue with a middle-aged Amazon who wanted you to do something. She let herself be twirled around to face the three-way mirror.
“Chin up, now,” Nanny said, and Harriet had to admit that she didn’t look half bad.
“Darker eyeshadow, that’s all you need,” said Nanny with a decisive nod.
“Maybe some vampy red lipstick,” Harriet suggested weakly.
The sunglasses still covered her eyes, but Harriet got the impression that Nanny had narrowed them. “Not sure that would suit you, dear.”
Harriet looked at her reflection in the mirror. “No?”
“Nah.” And there was the English accent slipping through the practiced Scottish. “With a face like yours you’ve got to walk the line between wholesome and vampy.”
“As opposed to going all out?” asked Harriet wryly. The woman was wearing Louboutins, after all.
Vampy red lips curled in satisfaction. “We all work with what we’ve got,” said Nanny.
“Why, if you two aren’t the loveliest ladies I’ve seen in ages!” Francis beamed at them. Literally beamed; Harriet could swear the lighting improved. The weirdest part was that he sounded completely sincere.
Nanny’s entire face softened into something indulgent and sweet. “Too kind, angel. But we can’t possibly both walk out of here with the same dress, can we?”
“I—I guess not?” Harriet wasn’t sure what was happening.
“What do you think she’d look nice in?” Nanny rested her hands on Harriet’s bare arms. They were cold, which probably explained the goosebumps that rose in their wake. “You’ll pick something tartan, no doubt.”
Francis was indeed wearing tartan. Harriet, who remembered quizzing Thaddeus on tartan patterns for weeks before a major trip to Balmoral, couldn’t place it. He sniffed. “Now, my dear, you know tartan is stylish.”
“Go on then, find her something she can wear to her Christmas parties.” Nanny smiled.
“Gold,” Francis decided immediately. “It will bring out the highlights in your hair.”
“And don’t make it too wholesome, angel,” said Nanny with an evil-looking grin. “I know the concept of sex appeal is lost on you, but give it an effort, hm?”
He fixed her with a rather beady look. “There are many different ways to be sexy,” he said loftily, and stomped out with his nose in the air.
“I always could have sworn he was gay,” Harriet remarked before she could think better of it.
“Depends on the day,” said Nanny, not looking at all offended.
Weird. Harriet gestured at the black dress and ventured, “so are you going to get that?”
“I think I just might. The opera can be rather stuffy considering the subject matter.” There was another one of those toothy grins. “How’s Warlock?”
Harriet smiled. “He’s good. I was a little worried for a bit, we had an incident on a trip to Israel that was really unsettling, but you know Warlock. He bounces back.”
“Mm.” Nanny pursed her lips. “Nothing too dangerous, I hope?”
“No.” Harriet shook her head. “Just this unhinged archaeologist. We ended up going to Tel Aviv and swimming for the rest of the trip.”
Nanny grimaced. “Could have been worse.”
“Are you...” Harriet wasn’t sure how to phrase this. “Have you been faking an accent?”
Her eyebrows shot up. “I—fuck,” she sighed, dropping the Scottish completely. “Yeah, alright. I’m not Scottish.”
Harriet wasn’t sure what her face was doing. “Why would you fake that?” She knew accent bias was real, but she’d never heard of an English person adopting a Celtic accent; usually it was the other way around.
“Sounded soothing,” she muttered, looking embarrassed.
Harriet decided to throw out an olive branch. “I hate to admit this, but I’ve thought of you as Nanny for so long I can’t remember your first name.”
“Yeah. Sorry.” Harriet flashed her an embarrassed smile. “That’s terrible of me, since we’ve known each other so long, but we always just called you Nanny.”
“Nanny was perfectly fine,” she said, a bit stiffly.
“I can’t call you that anymore. You’re not my nanny.” Harriet snorted.
“Crowley, dear, I’ve found just the thing,” said Francis happily. He held out an absolutely stunning gold dress.
“Crowley,” said Harriet slowly. It didn’t sound like a given name, but the way she bit her lip told Harriet that it was the one she went by. Well, it wasn’t her business to pry. She focused her attention on the shimmery thing in Francis’s arms. “It’s beautiful,” she murmured, reaching out to touch an elegant rose-shaped knot on the front of it. There were several, creating a path across the bodice for the eye to follow, and the whole thing glittered with sequins under the light.
“I’m so glad you think so.” He smiled at her, and then gave Crowley—that would take some getting used to—an insufferably smug look. “Too wholesome?”
“Give her the right pair of strappy sandals and she’ll look like the Whore of Babylon,” said Crowley, looking delighted. “I didn’t think you approved of sequins, angel.”
“I’m not sure I should look like the Whore of Babylon at a Christmas party with the Prime Minister’s wife,” Harriet demurred.
“Who else is going to bring the sex appeal?” Crowley grinned. “Besides, the Tories could use a bit of scandal right now.”
“Dear, no,” said Francis severely, and got a grin for his trouble.
“Consider it a freebie, as the Americans say,” she hissed.
“We can discuss it later.”
“Maybe I can pair this with some boots,” said Harriet, thinking of her college days spent walking from club to club in mini skirts and sandals and how she was way too old for that shit now.
Crowley pursed her lips. “Well. Bound to be some sexy ones we can stuff you into. Go on, let’s see it on.” She shooed Harriet into the fitting room.
Harriet went; this was kind of fun, and anyway she wasn’t entirely sure she was allowed to say no. It had been a long time since she’d gone shopping with anyone else. Warlock’s annual wardrobe reset when he inevitably outgrew everything she’d just bought him wasn’t exactly fun for either of them and therefore didn’t count.
She carefully hung the black gown back up on the hanger and then unzipped the gold. Burberry, she noticed approvingly, and slipped it on.
She loved it. She loved the way it hugged her body in all the places she liked. She loved how it shimmered and made her look warmer, somehow. She loved the long tight sleeves and the gorgeous knotwork on the front and the weight of it. “This is perfect,” she told Francis as she stepped out of the fitting room.
His entire face lit up. “You’re a vision,” he said, taking both her hands for a brief squeeze before throwing a supercilious look at Crowley.
“Not bad,” she said, circling them both with an appraising expression. “Not bad at all. You’ve got some taste, angel. Maybe I ought to send you downstairs for some more flattering trousers.”
“We’ve talked about this, my dear,” said Francis primly.
Crowley sniffed. “Right. Well, this does do you some favors, dear.”
Harriet stifled the urge to squirm. “Thanks.”
Crowley circled in tighter, raking her eyes over Harriet in a way that almost looked predatory. It shouldn’t have, since she was just checking over her outfit, but Harriet couldn’t help but think of birds and snakes. “Oh yes,” she purred. “Perfect to wear to your Christmas party. Maybe a diamond cocktail ring and some tasteful earrings. You’ll outshine all the other women there, which will make it all the more humiliating when their husbands take them for a dance, each of them in turn, while you’re left on your own by the hors d'oeuvre table. He’ll ignore you in public, snub you in front of all the chaps from his office who know he’s shagging twenty-year-old Tiffany or whatever her name is. But in this dress, you can grab a glass of champagne and find the handsomest intern at the party to talk to, and dazzle him with your knowledge of London and your scathing remarks about the other people in the room. And before long you’ll find this dress pushed up around your waist while he’s fucking you in the coatroom—”
“Too much, my dear,” said Francis patiently, and snapped his fingers.
Time seemed to pause, squint, then shuffle slightly to the left and reorient itself. Harriet found herself blinking in front of the three-way mirror, listening to hissed voices in the nearest fitting room.
“—too close to the situation to see it clearly, Crowley—”
“Look, I’m fond of the boy, alright? And if this is what it takes to get him out of that bloody situation, then I’ve no qualms about doing it!”
“Darling, I’m not complaining! But it seems you’ve lost your touch.”
“What the He—what is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” said Francis in a tone that implied Crowley was very stupid, “that a strapping young intern is hardly the way to approach this.”
“Oh.” There were worlds of sarcasm in that syllable. “Oh, you’re going to school me now? You’re better at my job than I am? How long, comparatively speaking, have you been doing my work for me? Hm?”
“As I said,” came the patient voice, “you’re too close to the situation.”
There was a long silence. “Surely not,” Crowley finally said.
“I’m surprised you can’t see it.”
“She is not either!”
“You really didn’t notice?”
“Notice what? There’s been nothing to notice!”
There was another long pause. “You’d better be right about this,” Crowley said in a low voice.
“I’ve never yet been wrong.” After another pregnant pause Francis hastened to add, “on this particular issue!”
“Mmhm.” Crowley sounded indulgent now. “I don’t usually go through with it, you know. You’re alright with that?”
“You did say you were willing to do whatever was necessary. I quite agree, the end result would be best for everyone.” Francis’s voice turned sly. “And I’ll get to hear all about it after you’ve finished.”
“Filthy.” Crowley’s voice was honey sweet.
“Now, really,” sniffed Francis.
“Right then. I suppose we ought to start over.”
“I suppose we ought. And do make sure you buy that dress. You look absolutely ravishing in it.”
“I always look ravishing, angel.”
“Hence the present situation.”
Harriet blinked. She was standing in front of the three-way mirror with Crowley directly behind her. Francis stood off to the side, beaming at the pair of them like a pudgy ray of sunshine.
“Right,” said Crowley, sliding her hands down Harriet’s arms. “Well, this does do you some favors, dear.”
Some lingering sense of déjà vu made Harriet frown, but politeness demanded that she thank the woman for the compliment. So she did, ducking her head in a fit of uncustomary shyness.
“Now, now, don’t be so modest. Wear this to a Christmas party and you’ll look tastier than the figgy pudding.”
“Oh, I love figgy pudding,” sighed Francis. “We really ought to have one this year, my dear.”
“Of course, angel. I’ll light it myself,” said Crowley in a doting sort of voice. In a murmur to Harriet, she added, “don’t tell him, it’ll go straight to his head, but I spoil him terribly and enjoy every minute of it.”
Harriet forced a smile; Crowley’s breath tickled her ear. “That sounds nice,” she managed.
“He certainly doesn’t complain.” Crowley straightened up. “Yes, this dress makes you look positively radiant. It just needs a little extra something to make it all sing.”
“I can probably get some killer shoes,” said Harriet uncertainly. She wasn’t sure her usual beige pumps would do this justice, although there was nothing objectionable about them.
“No no, not the shoes.” Crowley eyed her, letting the sunglasses slip down enough to almost reveal her eyes.
Something in the back of Harriet’s mind was screaming about snakes and mice, but more to the point was the fact that she desperately wanted to see this woman’s eyes. It was unnerving, having known her for years and never having seen them. What color were they? Were they like the rest of her, by turns stern and indulgent? Harriet wanted to know.
“What do you mean?” she managed to ask, pulling herself back to reality.
“I mean a certain....” Crowley mused over the word she was looking for. “A je ne sais quoi. Something to really make you glow.”
“Like what?” Harriet couldn’t stop staring at her face. At the barest hint of an eyelid visible over the rim of her glasses. At the curve of those wine-red lips.
“What you need,” Crowley said slowly, “is a secret.”
“A secret?” Harriet repeated stupidly.
“Oh yes.” Large, capable hands took hers, making her look down at their reflection. She looked so small next to Crowley, petite and delicate. Those long fingers curled around her hands, trapping her, but somehow this didn’t feel as strange as it ought to. “There’s nothing more alluring than a mysterious woman.”
That, Harriet was forced to admit, was very true. Case in point, she was still burning to rip those glasses off Crowley’s face and look at her naked eyes. “I suppose,” she agreed cautiously, still transfixed by the sight of their hands.
“Secrets have power, you know,” Crowley cooed at her, and it was Nanny’s voice again, the fake accent that always made Harriet stand up a little straighter in her presence. It had the same effect as Ashley Ryder’s cheerleader voice back in high school; a desperate, pathetic need to impress, to be approved of. To pass muster and earn the queen’s favor.
And she knew that. She knew secrets had power. Her husband worked for the State Department, for Christ’s sake. So of course she knew that whatever Nanny was going to tell her next would be very important. “They do,” she agreed.
“And backroom deals are what determines the course of the world, don’t you agree?” Nanny’s voice was so soothing. Like silk or velvet being rubbed all over her skin. It made Harriet shiver.
“Of course,” she agreed, swallowing.
Something about Nanny’s body language went sharp and predatory. “Shall I give you a secret to keep, dear?”
Harriet swallowed again. “Okay,” she whispered as the air around her seemed to tighten with anticipation. Or maybe that was her own body, hanging on every word Nanny spoke.
“I’m going to offer you a deal, Harriet,” Nanny whispered against her ear, and her hot breath made Harriet swoon. “Three times I’ll ask you and three times you’ll have a chance to accept or refuse me. Reject me at any turn and this ends. You keep your tidy, loveless little marriage and your increasingly resentful son and your lonely life with your Chenin blanc to ease the heartache.” Nanny inhaled deeply, the tip of her nose brushing Harriet’s hair. “Accept, and I can take you away from all that. You and Warlock will be free to start over here in London, with no worries about visas or immigration. You can choose what you do, who you see, and where you go without being uprooted every time Thaddeus needs to curry favor. Doesn’t that sound lovely?”
Harriet felt dizzy. There was no way this woman had the power to offer this, but God. Sometimes she dreamed about being able to walk away with Warlock and get a nice little house here in the city, away from Thaddeus and his constant excuses and thinly veiled lies. “What are you offering me?” she croaked.
One hand left her wrist and came up to take her chin. Nanny turned her head until they were staring into each other’s faces with barely an inch between them. “You can take them off if you like,” Nanny offered in a whisper.
Harriet startled when she realized she was talking about the glasses. Before she could think twice, she reached up and ripped them off Nanny’s face, tossing them aside carelessly. And then she gasped.
“Think carefully before you decide,” Nanny told her, and she had yellow eyes. Yellow eyes with a thin slit pupil. Inhuman eyes. Eyes like a snake or a cat, and Harriet was caught, staring into them like a frozen mouse.
“Shhh.” Nanny’s thumb brushed her lips. “No need to scream, dear. I’d never hurt you.”
Her lips tingled. “Then what—?”
“What I’m offering,” said Nanny slowly, “is to make you feel more alive than you have since the night you and Thaddeus decided to fix your marriage. You know the one.”
Harriet did. Oh God, she did. She remembered champagne and salty sea air and the way his hands had felt on her skin. She remembered how they’d fucked until she was sore, and then again after that. She remembered thinking it would be enough, that things would change.
“How?” she asked in the softest of whispers.
The thumb brushed her lips again. “You know how. There are some things that scare you about yourself, aren’t there, Harriet?”
Harriet’s heart started to race. She couldn’t know about that. No one knew about that, not even Thaddeus. Hell, even the other girls had all laughed it off as a drunk one-off and gone back to their boyfriends. There was no way Nanny could know that when she really needed to get off she closed her eyes and remembered shaking thighs on either side of her head, and breasts pressed against her back, and lipstick smeared on pale skin.
She couldn’t even open her mouth to speak a denial, just stood there in shock as this woman (or woman-shaped thing, the back of her mind whispered) gently pried out her secrets.
“Well, Harriet?” purred that low, soothing voice. “Yes or no?”
“What are you?” she finally had the wherewithal to ask.
“I’m the original tempter of women, dear. Changed the fate of humanity with one taste of an apple. Tell me what you want a taste of, Harriet.” Nanny blinked her snake eyes once.
There was a part of her that was scared. The kind of scared that turned her blood to ice water in her veins and made it impossible to think. This was a demon, a literal demon from Hell, and she had a second of clarity about all of it—Warlock’s strange birth, the unusual things that followed their family, the unsettling man in Israel—all of it made complete sense. She was dealing with diabolical forces here, and she should take care.
But mostly she was mesmerized by the gold in those eyes. “You said three times?” she managed to ask.
Nanny’s lips curled in triumph. “I did, yeah.”
Harriet nodded slowly, and closed her lips around Nanny’s thumb.
It earned her a hiss, and a muttered, “good girl,” which made her eyes fall closed in a mix of shame and excitement. She touched her tongue to the tip Nanny’s thumb and nearly moaned at the taste. Something salty and smoky, like a good whisky. It was addictive.
She could have spent an eternity worshipping that thumb, but Nanny drew it out of her mouth, tapping it against her lips to stop the whine that emerged without her permission. “Now, now,” Nanny tutted, “mustn’t ruin your lipstick, dear.”
Fuck the lipstick. Harriet didn’t care about the lipstick. She’d smear it all along the insides of Nanny’s thighs if she asked it of her, and she opened her mouth to say so, but stopped when the grip on her chin tightened.
“Ah ah,” Nanny whispered. “This is for you, Harriet. No need to perform, here. No need to do anything at all, really. Just let me enjoy you.” And then she tipped Harriet’s chin up and licked a wet stripe up her throat.
Harriet gasped; lust stabbed through her gut, so intense it was nearly painful. Like a cramp, but accompanied by a delicious, spreading heat. She was too warm suddenly. The dress had felt amazing but now it was stifling, laying uncomfortably against her sensitized skin. She wanted to be naked, to let Nanny run those big hands all over her. Or cover her in lipstick prints so she could see everywhere she’d been marked.
“You’re panting,” Nanny cooed. “Isn’t that precious?”
Harriet closed her eyes, feeling her face heat up. This was too much like her old fantasies of being outed as a dyke by the cheerleading squad and having to pleasure them all in exchange for keeping her secret. How did this woman know so much? Was it some demon magic, or was Harriet just that obvious? God. She was probably obvious. She wondered how long Nanny had known what she was like.
“Your hair smells lovely,” Nanny told her softly. “Did you know that?”
Harriet swallowed. She knew she liked her shampoo, but this was different. “Thank you,” she whispered, not knowing what else to say. Her nipples were hard; she wanted Nanny to touch them.
Instead, Nanny let go of her chin and pressed close behind her, chest flush against Harriet’s back. She wrapped one arm around Harriet’s chest, above her breasts, and nuzzled her hair while her other hand relinquished its grip on Harriet’s own to tease along the dress. “We are quite pretty together, aren’t we?” Nanny hissed against her ear. “Go on. Look.”
Harriet met her own eyes in the mirror and nodded. She looked stunned, fuck-drunk, as she leaned back against Nanny’s body. “Yeah,” she whispered faintly, mouth falling open as she watched Nanny’s hand play across the dress. Her nail caught on a sequin occasionally, and it seemed to thrum against Harriet’s skin.
“Are you wet, Harriet?” Nanny asked in a soft, understanding voice, and Harriet’s whole body flushed with a heady mix of shame and need. “Go on, dear, you can say.”
But Harriet couldn’t. She shook her head weakly, averting her eyes.
“No.” Nanny’s voice was sharp now. “I didn’t stand you in front of this mirror to look away, girl. You’re going to watch.”
Harriet made a noise then that she didn’t think she’d ever made before. It was needing and pathetic, and it made Nanny smile.
“Steady on, dear. I suppose if you can’t answer we’ll just have to check.” She began to tug up the hem of the dress.
Harriet gasped. “You can’t!” she hissed, suddenly remembering where they were. She threw a panicked look behind her, expecting to see Francis standing there with a heartbroken look on his face.
But he was nowhere to be found.
“Did you just tell me I can’t?” asked Nanny in a soft, dangerous voice. “Was that a refusal, Harriet?”
“Wh—no!” Harriet grabbed at her wrist, feeling flushed and stupid and overwhelmed. “I just—someone could see—-and what about Francis?”
Nanny blinked, and then she chuckled. “Oh, that’s sweet. Don’t you worry your pretty head about him, girl.” She put her lips to Harriet’s ear again. “He’s out there making sure no one interrupts us.” And then she bit her earlobe with those sharp white teeth, and Harriet felt it down to her toes.
“I—God—” Harriet couldn’t quite manage a full sentence.
Nanny chuckled again, licking her ear with something like fondness. “No more thinking from you, dear.” She reached down again and gripped the hem of the dress, and this time Harriet let her. “Good girl,” she whispered.
Harriet’s heart was pounding so hard she could hear blood rushing in her ears. She stared, transfixed, as Nanny raised her dress, baring her thighs and the simple beige underwear she’d thrown on today with no expectation that anyone was going to see them.
“Hold it for me,” Nanny instructed her, and Harriet took hold of the dress without thinking. “Good girl. You’ve got to keep it up and out of my way, that’s a dear.”
Harriet gripped the dress and bit her lip. She actually let out a whimper when Nanny’s big hand gripped her thigh. “Please,” she gasped without knowing what it was she wanted.
“Steady on,” Nanny murmured. “Oh, Harriet, you have been a naughty girl. These are nearly soaked through.”
Harriet flushed, mortified, as Nanny snapped the waistband of her underwear.
“Filthy,” she tutted, but with an indulgent smile. “Tell me, dear, how long have you wanted a woman’s hands on you?”
Harriet squeaked. There wasn’t a better response. She couldn’t say how long exactly, just that she’d always been too eager to kiss girls when she was drunk, and too willing to follow powerful women around hoping to bask in the glow of their attention. “Please,” she whimpered again, knowing how pathetic she sounded.
But Nanny didn’t tut at her again. In fact, she smiled. “I’ve got just the thing, girl,” she said soothingly. And then she tugged Harriet’s underwear to the side, baring her pussy.
Harriet had to shut her eyes then; it was too much. She could feel cool air against her heated skin, and the shame that washed over her at the thought of Nanny just looking at it was more than she could handle.
“Harriet.” Nanny’s voice stopped her thoughts before they could spiral out of her control. “Open your eyes, dear.”
Harriet swallowed and shook her head. “It’s too much,” she whispered.
“I won’t touch it until you look,” Nanny said sternly. “Make up your mind, Harriet. Yes or no?”
Harriet shuddered, gripping the dress too hard. She hadn’t dropped it. “Yes,” she choked. “Yes, just—God.”
“She’s not paying any attention, dear,” Nanny purred. “Now open your eyes. Not every day you get to fuck in front of a three-way mirror.”
Harriet took a deep breath. Nanny was still holding her underwear to the side, fingers dangerously close to where Harriet both dreaded and craved them. “Tell me again,” she begged. It was too much to ask her to do on her own.
There were teeth at her neck then, startling a soft cry out of her. “Open your fucking eyes,” Nanny hissed. “You’re going to watch what I do to you.”
Harriet’s eyes flew open and flew to her reflection. She looked a mess; her hair was mussed, her face was red, she was breathing hard, and she had her dress bunched in her hands while Nanny teased her.
“Good girl,” Nanny murmured again, sliding wicked fingers along the satiny material of her underwear and raising goosebumps on her skin. “Keep being good for me, dear.”
“I’ll try,” Harriet breathed.
Nanny chuckled. “Good,” she purred, and then—finally—slid those long fingers over Harriet’s clit.
Harriet bit back a whine. God, she was so excited already and this had barely begun. Nanny explored her carefully, as though they had all the time in the world, first touching her labia, then dipping a finger inside her and remarking, “my, we are excited.”
It made Harriet flush again, but she couldn’t look away. She watched as Nanny’s fingers moved over her, heart pounding so hard it hurt. “Feels good,” she squeaked.
“I’m sure it does.” Nanny smiled gently at her. “After all, you’ve wanted it for so long.”
Harriet nodded, licking her dry lips. This was really dirty. She couldn’t look away. In the mirror, Nanny petted and stroked her, never staying in one place long enough to give her any satisfaction.
“Tell me, dear,” Nanny murmured, “do you shave this because you like to, or because your husband prefers it?”
For a moment Harriet was too overwhelmed by the blunt fingertips tracing her labia to answer, but then she swallowed. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “I guess it’s just the thing to do.”
“Hm.” Nanny pursed her lips. “Odd thing, that. Wasn’t so long ago that no one thought a thing of hair on a woman. Only a hundred years or so, really.”
“I suppose,” Harriet agreed, shifting her hips in what she hoped was a subtle way to encourage Nanny to rub her clit.
It got her an indulgent chuckle. “Needy,” Nanny said with a biting kiss to her neck. “I won’t make you beg here. Next time—if there is a next time—I’ll catch you alone and then we’ll see how loud I can make you scream. But for now...”
Harriet whined when Nanny started to circle her clit properly, canting her hips forward and panting through her open mouth as those long, clever fingers worked her up. “Oh my God,” she whispered again. “Shit, that’s—oh my God.”
“When’s the last time you felt this good, Harriet?” Nanny whispered, breath hot against her ear. “Before Thaddeus, surely. Wild university days, perhaps? Or did you have a special friend you used to play with at sleepovers? Bit of petting under the covers, hm?”
“I just—” Harriet’s breath caught as Nanny pinched her clit gently between her big fingers. “Oh God—just the once, it just happened once.”
“Is that right?” asked Nanny softly, and Harriet had to stifle a squeal as she tugged, just a little. The threat of pain shot through her like lightning, and she could come like this, she really could. “Tell me.”
“We were—fuck—drunk. Sorority house party, I was pledging.” Harriet’s hips jerked and Nanny went back to rubbing her in quick little circles.
“Classic. Was it hazing? Did they demand that you please them before they let you join?”
“No.” Harriet closed her eyes before she remembered and opened them again. Something made her whisper, “I wish they had.”
“That’s because you’re filthy, dear.” Nanny’s arm tightened on her waist. “So you touched these sorority girls,” she prompted.
Harriet nodded. “Yes,” she moaned. “We were drunk and they took me upstairs, and it went from there.”
“Sounds delicious,” Nanny hissed.
“It really was,” Harriet whispered. She could still remember that night; the giddy drunk feeling from too many vodkas with cranberry juice, the taste of Malibu on Jillian’s tongue, the feel of Sam’s nipples tightening under her fingertips. She’d been dizzy with lust, shaking with how badly she wanted it when Jillian had guided her between Sam’s legs.
“What did you do?” Nanny’s voice was hypnotic, drawing Harriet back to the present.
“I—Jilli—she—one girl fingered me while I went down on the other one,” Harriet whimpered. “Please don’t stop.”
“Never.” Nanny rubbed her a little faster, just rough enough that Harriet felt slightly used. It was perfect, riding the edge of too much. “You poor dear. Got a single taste and nothing since. I know how that feels, Harriet, and I’m not going to leave you wanting.”
“Oh,” breathed Harriet. “Oh, thank you. Thank you—”
“Such a polite girl,” cooed Nanny. “Did you thank those sorority girls for treating you like a plaything too?”
Harriet bit her lip; instead of answering, she focused on keeping her legs from shaking as Nanny dipped a finger inside her to get it wet before returning to Harriet’s clit. She was focused now, trapping her clit between her middle and index finger and rocking her whole hand. It was enough to send shock waves through Harriet’s entire body, and she clutched at the dress as she fought to hold in the noises she wanted to make.
“So pretty like this,” Nanny hissed, and bit her ear.
Harriet couldn’t muffle her squeal then, and Nanny chuckled, warm and steady against her back as she moved faster, winding Harriet tighter and tighter like a spring about to snap—
Her orgasm was a building, spreading thing that started in her clit and swept through her whole body. Nanny kept her upright with an iron grip on her waist, and Harriet was gasping for breath, letting out high little moaning sounds as she rode it out. Harriet couldn’t say for sure—time stopped mattering as she writhed under Nanny’s fingers—but it felt absurdly long. Impossibly long. As if Nanny had broken the laws of physics to keep Harriet coming as long as possible, until she was covered in sweat and her thighs trembled.
“Mother of fuck,” she panted when it passed and she could speak again. “God, I’m not sure I can feel my legs.”
Nanny’s lips curled into a smug little smile. “Then I rather think I’ve done my job properly.” She pulled her hand out from between Harriet’s legs (and even that was enough to make her shudder) and laid her fingers against Harriet’s lips. “Go on, dear. Here’s another taste.”
Harriet groaned. This woman was trying to kill her with what should have been cheesy porn moves that somehow managed to be insanely hot. She wrapped her lips around Nanny’s fingers, sucking the taste of herself off her skin. Fuck. Fuck, this was so goddamn dirty. Harriet couldn’t believe Francis was okay with his girlfriend fucking women in fitting rooms, even if they were demons or whatever. But if he was, well, she wasn’t complaining.
“There’s a dear.” Nanny pressed a swift, searing kiss to her cheek, miraculously managing not to smear lipstick across it. “Now you change back into your own clothes, and you go downstairs and buy this dress.” She bit Harriet’s earlobe and gently pulled her fingers out of her mouth. “You wear it to your Christmas party,” she hissed, “and when your husband ignores you, or you feel boring, or unappreciated, or dull, you think about me.”
Harriet closed her eyes and nodded, shivering.
“Good girl,” Nanny hissed again. “Go on then, sort yourself out. Give Warlock my love, and I’ll see you again.”
“When?” Harriet’s eyes flew open.
Nanny smirked. “Eager, are we? After you’ve had a bit of time to think. Ciao, dear.” She tapped her nose conspiratorially and sashayed out of the fitting room.
Harriet slowly lowered the hem of the dress, flexing her hands as the discomfort of gripping the dress for so long caught up to her. She turned and stared, lips parted, at the doorway to the fitting room, hoping against hope that Nanny would come back through and—
And what? Harriet shook her head as reality began to creep back in. This wasn’t a thing. Things like this didn’t happen to Harriet Dowling. It was tempting, in fact, to believe that she’d made the whole thing up.
Except that her hands ached, and she could still feel muscle spasms between her legs. She suddenly became aware that she was very, very exposed, and threw herself into the fitting room to hide. It was better in here, safer somehow. Harriet took several deep breaths, closing her eyes and trying to center herself like her yoga instructor had taught her. She didn’t like yoga, but all the other women in the embassy swore by it. Harriet was nothing if not a follower.
The deep breaths worked. She centered herself. She changed back into her own clothes. She decided against the navy tweed dress. And she took the gold one downstairs to the register.
Christmas came and went. The party was exactly as boring and humiliating as Nanny predicted, although the dress did keep Harriet from hiding in the bathroom and weeping into her glass of Chenin blanc. Warlock had affected a look of disdainful nonchalance when Harriet mentioned she’d bumped into his old nanny, which told her that he’d missed her. It had been enough to create a well of sympathy in Harriet, that they had this thing in common.
Then of course he’d ruined it by telling the Russian attaché that he smelled like pee when he’d come over to dinner. Harriet still got headaches when she thought too hard about the fallout from that one.
The fact that he’d been right made it somehow worse.
“You can’t let him talk to people like that, hon,” Thaddeus had told her later that night, across the bed while he tugged on his sleep shirt. He’d sounded afraid.
Harriet wondered why he hadn’t sounded afraid in Israel, when that deranged man was talking to their son about voices. “I’m sorry, I can’t let him talk to people that way? Since when is our son’s behavior my sole responsibility?”
“Harriet, I’m serious!” He’d turned to her then, clutching his robe in his hands, and for a second he looked like a frightened little boy. “There are consequences for this whole family if he makes the Russians angry.”
And that had stopped her cold, grim realities setting in. “How far does this go, Tad?” she asked.
He shook his head. “They fired the ambassador to Ukraine,” he said softly.
“What?” Harriet recoiled. She’d met the woman once, a brilliant no-nonsense politician in a smart suit, and she couldn’t imagine what could have led to anyone firing her.
“We need to stay on their good side,” Thaddeus repeated.
So that’s how it was. Harriet pursed her lips and nodded, and laid awake long after Thaddeus fell asleep, staring at the ceiling with the broken feeling she’d chained herself to a sinking ship.
Political wives fell into two camps: trophy wives and Lady Macbeths. Harriet was long past her expiration date for the first category and had no interest in the second. This put her in a somewhat unique position within their social circle; the trophy wives spent money, and the Lady Macbeths schemed, and she was part of none of it. An object of pity, most likely, when they thought about her at all.
She knew she drank too much. The sight of another empty wine bottle filled her with so much shame she wanted to die. There was a reason Thaddeus, for all his faults, made sure she never drove herself anywhere. God, she hated him. Except when she loved him, and there were moments when she loved him. Sometimes, during a speech that was ninety-seven percent bullshit, he’d catch her eye and they’d both grin, and she’d remember why she married him. But that hadn’t happened much lately.
So she was ignored by her husband and by the American expat community that had sprung up around the embassy. It was painfully lonely, which prompted the drinking, which often saw to it that she was in no fit state to accompany Thaddeus to functions, which fed the loneliness.
She was living her mother’s life. Only her mother had had friends.
January ground on, grey and cold and damp. Warlock didn’t make appearances at dinner anymore when they had people over. He didn’t seem to mind. That bothered Harriet more than anything.
Motherhood had turned out to be such a disappointment. Eleven years later, and Harriet was still bitter she’d been left to her own devices with a tiny baby when she’d barely been capable of taking care of herself. She knew she wasn’t good at it, and she knew Warlock resented her for it. It was hard to blame him. She resented herself for it. But she resented Thaddeus more. She’d had a group of friends and a career back in DC, before supporting his career had led to the death of her own. Harriet spoke three different languages. She’d double majored in Spanish and French, and had been toying with Mandarin, only to end up in a country where they spoke English. It was just one more of life’s little disappointments.
Another was that she had been sitting in this lobby for upwards of twenty minutes. She glanced at her phone, watched a cute girl get shown into a room, and pursed her lips.
“Excuse me,” she said crisply to the receptionist, “I’ve been waiting for some time. My appointment was scheduled for one this afternoon?”
The receptionist, a fashionably sullen looking girl with blunt black bangs, studied her a moment and then checked the computer. “Name?” she asked.
“Harriet Dowling. I booked the hot oil massage treatment?”
The girl nodded absently. Then a moment later she frowned, a glazed sort of look passing over her face. “Right,” she muttered, then raised her voice. “So sorry for the inconvenience. Right this way, ma’am.”
Harriet could have lived without being called ma’am, but she followed the receptionist to the room.
“Your masseuse will be with you shortly,” the girl said, and closed the door when she left.
Harriet rolled her eyes and undressed, folding her clothes neatly and laying them on the upholstered chair in the corner. She’d been coming to agua London since they’d designed their special jet lag package. It was a lifesaver on the days when she had to appear human the day after returning from Malaysia or South Africa. And a hot oil massage followed by a facial never failed to make her feel just a little bit better. Self care, that’s what all her books told her. Harriet rather liked nonfiction.
It was probably telling that she had recently developed a minor addiction to self-help books. She bought and hoarded paperbacks the way other women bought shoes.
Okay, so she bought shoes too. But the point still stood. She loved paging through a crisp new book with a glass of wine in hand, deliberately unaware of the irony, and reading lists of things that would improve her life.
She slipped on the fluffy robe and hopped onto the massage table, flipping through apps on her phone to pass the time. One of her favorite lifestyle blogs updated.
Harriet was engrossed in an essay about breathing techniques to reduce anxiety when the door opened. “Busy day?” she asked wryly, not looking up from her phone.
“You’ve no idea,” said a slow Scottish purr, and Harriet dropped her phone. Nanny smirked. “How was your Christmas?”
“I, uh—” Harriet slid off the table to pick up her phone. “It was alright. Yours?”
“Quiet. Cozy. Aziraphale got his figgy pudding in the end, although I had to—”
“Aziraphale?” Harriet straightened up, phone in hand.
Nanny looked embarrassed. “Ah. Yes, well, his name isn’t actually Francis, dear.”
“Right,” said Harriet slowly, “because you’re demons.”
“What? No! No no no, he’s not a demon. That’s just me. He’s an—”
“Angel,” Harriet finished, biting her lip.
“Sounds complicated,” said Harriet dryly.
“Was, for awhile. Not so much lately.” Nanny shrugged.
“Are you ever going to tell me why an angel and a demon came to work as part of my domestic staff?” asked Harriet.
Nanny lowered her glasses and raised her eyebrows. “Would you rather get angry before or after a good shag?”
Harriet raised her eyebrows back. “If it’s going to make me angry, I want to hear how bad it is before I decide to shag you.”
Nanny smiled. “Did you wear the dress?” she asked in a low purr.
Harriet swallowed. “You know I did.”
“Good girl. You really are eager to please, Harriet. It’s terribly sweet. Alright, fine. We entered your household under the mistaken belief that Warlock was the Antichrist, and we wanted to both influence him in equal amounts so he’d be normal instead of evil.”
Harriet stared at her. “You thought my son was the Antichrist.”
“Yeah.” Nanny looked embarrassed again.
“Because the plan was originally to swap out some babies at the hospital and give you the Antichrist, but that didn’t work out, there was another couple there giving birth that night, and the Antichrist went home with them.” Nanny huffed.
“They swapped my baby?” Harriet shrieked.
“No! Er, maybe.” Nanny cringed. “I didn’t stick around to see what they did, exactly. I just handed the baby over to the nun and told her to take him to the ambassador. She’s the one who brought the kid to the wrong room. For all I know Warlock’s all yours. Well,” she added, “biologically speaking. He’s already, you know, yours.”
Harriet sat down heavily on the massage table, staring into the middle distance. “Why did you pick me?” she asked bluntly.
Nanny sucked in a breath. “I didn’t pick you,” she said. “That was the higher ups, they decided—”
“Why me?” Harriet demanded.
She hesitated. “They wanted parents that were well-placed and uninvolved,” she finally said. “That’s why I was engaged as a nanny.”
Harriet couldn’t breathe. She wrapped her arms around herself and rocked, slightly, back and forth on the massage table.
She was the model mother for the son of Satan. Jesus tap dancing Christ on a pogo stick. Hell knew about her. The devil himself had hand picked Harriet Dowling to be the mother of his child, because she was so fucking bad at it that this demon could slip right in and turn her baby into a monster. And that wasn’t even touching the fact that she might have had her child stolen by some sweet nuns who had conspired to give her the Antichrist.
“Breathe, dear.” Nanny’s voice sounded distant. “You’ve got to breathe. Harriet. Harriet!”
“Get away from me,” she gasped.
Nanny’s hands fell to her sides.
Harriet took several deep, shaking breaths. “How could you do this to me?” she whispered. “What did I ever do to deserve this?”
Nanny hesitated. “Nothing,” she finally said. “You didn’t do anything to deserve it.”
Harriet covered her face with her hands. She knew. Deep down inside, she knew why they’d picked her. And worse, she knew Nanny was wrong. She did deserve this. She drank too much and spent too much money and said catty, unkind things and was too wrapped up in herself to notice her son slipping away. “Oh God,” she whispered.
Nanny sighed. “Sometimes,” she said haltingly, “I mean—when it comes to this sort of thing—it’s not because you did anything wrong at all. It’s—shit. It’s ineffable, isn’t it?”
Harriet sniffled. All those sweet smiling nuns, all of them, had been in on it. She’d been there all by herself and they’d all planned to steal her baby and give her a changeling child who would grow up and destroy the world. Thaddeus hadn’t even been there to help her. “How could you?” she asked brokenly.
“Heaven and Hell have been using humans as pawns for a long time,” said Nanny gently. “They don’t think anything of it.”
“That was my son,” Harriet whispered. Nine months she’d spent sharing her body, her blood, her heart with that baby. To think that he’d been stolen from her made her ache down to her soul.
“Warlock is your son,” Nanny told her, and there was an edge in her voice that made Harriet look up.
She blinked. “You care about Warlock.”
“Why do you sound surprised?” Nanny demanded. “Of course I care about him, I helped raise him!”
It was kind, Harriet supposed, that she chose the word ‘helped’ instead of being honest about Harriet and Thaddeus’s role in Warlock’s development.
Nanny looked away. “Suppose I feel a bit responsible, don’t I?”
“Do you?” asked Harriet bitterly.
“You’ve got a heaviness about you,” Nanny told her. “It’s worse each time I see you. Things aren’t getting better at home, are they?”
Harriet shook her head, her throat tightening. She couldn’t speak.
“Thought as much. This administration’s a bloody nightmare. Might have to actually intervene if it doesn’t sort itself out soon.”
Harriet choked on a sob. “We can’t let Warlock talk to anyone anymore,” she said. “If he offends the wrong people Tad could get fired.”
“Shit.” Nanny hissed in frustration. “Harriet, I can’t choose for you. And I can’t undo the past. All I can do is offer you a way out if you want to take it.”
“Where’s the catch?” Harriet snarled. She was thinking more clearly now. “There has to be a catch somewhere, right? You’re a demon.”
Nanny studied her face with those inhuman eyes. “The catch is that you’ve got to get yourself in order. You want to do well, that’s half the battle. But you should probably cut back on your drinking, and it might be time to acknowledge that you haven’t enjoyed sex with a man in several years.”
Harriet glared at her, and then deflated. “I do drink too much, don’t I?”
Nanny pulled a series of faces and made some weird noises that Harriet took to mean that she was trying to agree without actually agreeing.
Harriet sighed and looked around the room. “I just wanted a damn massage,” she said sadly.
Nanny cleared her throat. “Seems a bit insensitive to offer now.”
Harriet glared at her.
“Right, right. Sorry. I can, erm, get your usual person in here if you’d like—”
Harriet kept glaring.
“Yeah.” Nanny deflated. “Rain check. Got it.” She winced and backed out of the room.
A few minutes later Matilda, Harriet’s usual masseuse, stepped in. She was as professional as always and didn’t seem to realize she was half an hour behind schedule. Harriet didn’t mention it.
She couldn’t relax, though. Too many swirling thoughts kept going through her mind, not least of which was that she should pour out or give away all the wine bottles waiting for her at home. And the other was equally unnerving: if Nanny had played a role in swapping the babies, what other parts of Harriet’s life had she shaped?
Warlock found her in the kitchen later. She didn’t notice at first, since she was crying a little bit over the sixty dollar bottle of wine whose contents were disappearing down the sink, but she finally wiped her nose and set the empty bottle down and noticed him standing behind her. He was frowning.
“Hi honey,” she said, forcing a smile.
“Are you joining AA?” he asked bluntly.
Harriet sighed. “No,” she muttered, turning back to the sink and staring glumly at the five bottles of damn good wine she’d emptied.
“Oh. I heard drunks go to AA.”
“I’m not a drunk yet,” Harriet told him absently. “Besides, I’m not interested in a higher power.” So far those had all fucked her life over. Hard to place yourself in the hands of an untrustworthy deity.
“What’s a higher power got to do with it?” Warlock slouched into the kitchen and grabbed a snack sized bag of chips. Only he called them crisps, because all the kids at school did. Her son wasn’t English and he wasn’t fully American. She’d made him an outcast, just like she was. He wasn’t even the Antichrist either, although there were days when she could see why the demons had been confused.
“AA says you have to put yourself in the hands of a higher power and give up control to them, or you won’t be able to manage your addiction,” Harriet told him.
He made a skeptical noise and ate a chip.
She nodded in agreement and grabbed herself a bag of chips too. One wouldn’t hurt.
“Aren’t you dieting?” Warlock asked her. He was frowning again.
“I can cut calories by giving up wine,” she said, popping a chip into her mouth. Salt burst on her tongue.
“So how was school?” she asked, and sighed when he rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. Did you learn anything?”
“No.” He looked her in the eye.
Harriet gave up. “How much homework do you have?”
“A little,” he said, finding somewhere else to look.
She narrowed her eyes. “What subjects?”
“Maths,” he muttered, and Harriet would never get used to that being plural. “A book report.”
“Oh yeah? What book?”
Suspicion began to form. “When’s that due?”
He looked very interested in the table. “Tomorrow,” he muttered.
“You should probably at least start the book then, don’t you think?” she asked lightly.
Warlock threw her a startled look, as if he really thought he was being subtle. “I started it!”
“What page are you on?”
He was quiet for a minute. “Can I have another bag of crisps for when I go up?” he finally asked.
“Sure.” She magnanimously handed them over. “Read the first and last chapters and the first and last paragraph of all the middle ones. That’ll give you enough to bullshit the report. Don’t wait so long next time.”
Warlock blinked at her rapidly, then nodded and grabbed the bag of chips like a little squirrel before he thundered upstairs.
Harriet listened to his door slam and thoughtfully ate another chip. She’d gone over the dinner menus for the week with the cook, so she knew that tonight they would be eating Milanese risotto with cress soup and a pork roast for Thaddeus. All she had to do was reheat it at the designated time so that it would be ready when—if—Thaddeus got home at seven. It was waiting for her in the fridge.
She found she couldn’t stand the thought of eating it. Or the thought of patiently keeping Thaddeus’s dinner warm while he undoubtedly sat around drinking with the guys from work, or fucking the intern across his desk, or whatever it was he did when he wasn’t with them. When was the last time she’d completely disregarded his schedule the way he disregarded hers? She never had.
It was so tempting to say fuck it and take Warlock to Nando’s. Sure, he had homework and school in the morning, but she could help him. Maybe. With the book report, at least.
Nanny had told her the price of a new life was shaping up. Didn’t seem like the kind of catch that came with a demonic pact. Then again, this demon was in love with an angel, so Harriet wasn’t exactly sure what was standard. She just knew she didn’t want to meet it again.
Because the man in Israel had clearly been one of Them. The way he’d talked, snapping at Thaddeus and fixating on Warlock; it chilled her blood to think how close she’d been to a demon and how easily it could have hurt her family. Nanny had manipulated people like it was nothing. If they could all do that, no regular human stood a chance.
It was the kind of frightening that would leave you curled up under the covers like a child if you thought about it too long. Harriet refused to. She likewise pushed aside the idea of going to Nando’s. Warlock had a book report due tomorrow, and she was going to be a better mother.
At seven o’clock, dinner was on the table and Warlock was reading while he absently ate. Mostly the fork hit its intended target, although Harriet had to bite back a laugh when he hit himself in the cheek with a glob of rice. Thaddeus was nowhere to be found.
“Are you guys gonna ever get a divorce?” Warlock asked abruptly.
Harriet’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”
He shrugged. “It’s just that Liv Carmichael’s parents got divorced because they didn’t like each other anymore. You and Dad have never liked each other.”
“That’s not true,” said Harriet reflexively.
He leveled her with a look.
She sighed, longing for a drink. “We liked each other at one point.”
“When was that?”
“Awhile ago,” she snapped. “Your father works hard to keep us where we are.”
“Where we are sucks,” he said, pushing risotto around the plate. Harriet frowned at the small pile of onions he’d amassed in the corner of it.
“I know you can’t taste those,” she told him.
“Can too,” he muttered, extracting another microscopic piece of onion with surgical precision.
“Will you just eat your food?” she asked, exasperated.
He took a forkful of risotto that had apparently been sufficiently checked for onions and ate it, glaring the whole time. “Not like it would be any different if you got divorced,” he said. “He’s never here anyway.”
“You’d be stuck with my cooking if we got divorced,” she told him. “I haven’t worked in fourteen years and the staff would be the first thing to go.”
Warlock made a face at her. “Maybe I could learn to cook,” he said in a carefully casual way. “Can’t be that hard, right?”
“You have homework after school,” she reminded him. “Cooking takes time.”
“Not all of it. Sometimes you can put stuff in the Instant Pot,” he told her, and she had to wonder where he’d learned about that. “They have like apps and stuff that you can use to start dinner when you’re out.”
“Well, for now we have a cook,” Harriet said in a final sort of way, although she was touched.
Warlock grumbled something about being able to do better, but Harriet was feeling generous enough to ignore it. After all, he was more than three quarters of the way through his book.
“I can help you with the report,” she offered softly. It would keep her out of the wine, if nothing else.
Warlock looked grateful, and she spent a good chunk of the evening helping him tease out themes and metaphors. She felt bad about him having to stay up so late to finish the math, but at least the report—which she learned was worth fifteen percent of his grade—was done.
She went to bed early, still craving a drink.
Charity auctions were one of the few things Harriet did with her time that felt really worthwhile. She sat on two committees comprised of activists, political wives, and representatives from various aid organizations, and together they did about six fundraisers per year for causes that they voted on the previous fall. This year they had chosen, again, to focus on Syrian refugees. Harriet appreciated irony, but she suspected she was alone, so she kept her mouth shut.
She had volunteered her best bottles of wine, the ones she couldn’t bear to dump down the sink, as part of a gift basket for lower bidders. It soothed some part of her soul to put them to good use. The proceeds for their first auction of the year were going to refugee camps in France, which needed medical supplies, winter coats, and hygiene products as well as food. None of the other women on the committee so much as mentioned the United States’ recent policy shifts in regard to refugees or asylum seekers. It was a parody of justice. Still, if it meant some people survived the winter then Harriet could swallow it. She’d been doing it this long, after all.
And now she had a voice whispering in the back of her mind that she didn’t have to, really. She had options now, when she was ready to take them.
Maybe it showed, because Genevieve Kennedy (no relation to those Kennedys) looked at her shrewdly after she’d uncharacteristically suggested they scout the local hotels for guest packages to auction off and said, “you’re not usually so full of ideas, Harriet.”
Harriet fought the urge to bare her teeth. Instead she smiled and shrugged. “What can I say? I’m feeling inspired.”
The meeting slogged on as details were sorted out and plans were laid, and Harriet couldn’t help but think that it would have been easier for Nanny to just lie to her when she’d asked her questions. The fact that she’d told the truth was almost remarkable. Harriet wasn’t sure if demons felt guilty, but if they were capable then Nanny certainly seemed like she did.
Warlock probably wasn’t the child she’d carried. She’d resigned herself to that. They’d taken her son away “to clean him up” and brought Warlock to her after, and Harriet Dowling might not be a genius but she wasn’t an idiot either. The sheer violation of it all still bowled her over when she thought about it; her heart ached for the baby she’d had stolen, even as she was grateful to have the son she did now. It was all very confusing, and she burned with resentment whenever she would lay awake listening to Thaddeus snore next to her. She wanted to blame him. He should have been there for her. It didn’t matter that it wouldn’t have made any difference. At least they’d have been in it together, both of them tricked. As it was, Harriet went through it alone, and the only one who understood how thoroughly she’d been wronged was the one who’d had a hand in it.
She wanted a drink.
What she got was a cup of milky tea and a generic biscuit, because the chairwoman had ideas about enjoying luxury while other people starved, never mind that most of the women here were wearing Chanel and Burberry. Harriet dipped her biscuit with glum resignation, missing the dry, creamy flash of Chardonnay across her tongue.
Finally, after what felt like years, and with no more unscripted and unwanted input from Harriet, the meeting let out and she escaped into the cold, bracing air of London proper. It was damp and smelled vaguely like exhaust fumes, but she didn’t mind. She put her hands in her pockets and headed west toward Battersea Park. A walk would clear her head and hopefully calm the urge to either grab a drink or go check to make sure her husband wasn't getting a blowjob from his secretary. Glass houses, after all.
There wasn’t much wind, for which Harriet was thankful. She tipped her face up into the rare bright sun and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to savor the feeling of the air on her face. Her self-help books all told her to be present in the moment, and she was trying. They read better with tea than wine, she was finding.
Harriet took her time; it was a long walk, and she had nowhere to be. She decided to stop at an Indian restaurant when she got close to the park and picked up some vegetable samosas to go. Then she tucked them carefully into her purse and made her way down paths cut through manicured lawns gone crisp and dormant. A group of tourists passed through, speaking in animated Czech and making Harriet smile before veering off and leaving her alone at the bandstand.
Harriet studied it for a moment, then shrugged. There hadn’t been any snow lately, and her grey coat was dark enough to hide a number of sins. She sat down on the step and pulled out her samosas to eat.
Thaddeus and Warlock both hated Indian food; these were a rare treat, and Harriet was delighted that they’d stayed warm. She pulled out her phone and investigated Audible; she spent so much time in the car that an audiobook might be just the thing. The selection of self-help books was fantastic.
“What are you doing here?” yelped a distressingly familiar voice.
Harriet looked up, expecting Nanny and instead—
There was a man standing there. A man with short, flame-red hair and painted-on jeans, with his mouth hanging open and his sunglasses sliding down almost enough to show off his yellow, snakelike eyes.
“What the hell?” Harriet blurted.
“Fuck,” he muttered, rubbing his face. Harriet realized with a flash that somehow, without meaning to, she’d discovered one of his secret places.
The notion of putting him on the defensive pleased her, so she affected a casual expression and took a bite of samosa.
“You weren’t supposed to see me like this,” he mumbled.
“Crowley, right?” It was weird trying to keep all the lies and the names straight, but Harriet Dowling hadn’t survived pledging a sorority and come away with nothing.
He glared at her. “Nice day for a walk in the park,” he said sourly.
“It is, isn’t it?” She looked up at the sun. “I’ve been thinking a lot.”
He eyed her, annoyance visibly melting into wariness. “Yeah, I imagine you have.”
“You look like an aging rock star, you know,” she remarked, enjoying his discomfort. “The type who bribes teenage groupies with drugs.”
“Hey! That’s just not on,” he said, looking down at himself.
Harriet smirked. “You conspired to steal my baby. I’m allowed to be as bitchy to you as I want.”
That made him deflate. “Yeah, alright,” he muttered. He paced in front of her, all long legs and restless energy. Harriet found his walk oddly mesmerizing, though a lot less compelling than if he’d been a woman.
“So you just change whenever you feel like it? Or is this your real form?”
“You’d go mad if you saw my real form. This is just—” he shrugged expressively.
“Man? Woman? Are there boy and girl demons?” She picked another samosa out of the bag and bit into it.
“No,” he said with a glare.
Interesting. Harriet nodded as though none of this surprised her. “I think I’m a lesbian,” she said thoughtfully, tasting the words and discovering she liked them.
He snorted. “I could have told you that.”
That annoyed her. “And you’re what? Equal opportunity? Does your angel care what parts you have?”
“Leave him out of it,” Crowley snapped. “He didn’t do anything to you.”
“But you did,” she said. “You wronged me. You, your bosses, all those nuns. I’m not sure how to explain to you how that feels.”
He turned away, and it was almost impressive how his whole body telegraphed remorse. “I am sorry,” he said softly.
“I believe you.” Harriet studied him. “But I have a question. Is all this because you want me to forgive you?”
Crowley jerked, recoiling back like a snake about to strike. Then he hissed. “No,” he said. “No. I’m not having another bloody awful conversation at this fucking bandstand!”
“You come here often?” Harriet asked, watching his temper tantrum with the same dispassionate expression that Nanny had used on Warlock when she’d informed him that he needed to go put on pants if he wanted to get ice cream.
The glare was blistering this time. “I thought that’s how it worked,” he snapped. “The whole forgiveness bit. Do some good deeds, tip the meter back toward the light, all that shit. Or maybe it’s not for you at all, Harriet. Maybe it’s to make sure Warlock doesn’t grow up with an absent father and a drunk mother!”
Harriet took a deep breath. “I’ve actually cut way back recently,” she said. He wasn’t wrong, after all.
He wasn’t pleased. He wanted her angry, she suspected, and it was annoying him that she wasn’t playing along.
“I’m not ready to forgive you,” she told him. “And I know it’s not just you, but you’re the one who’s here, so you’re the one who I’ll either forgive or not.”
Crowley sneered. “And here I am again,” he snapped. “Held up as an example for something I barely even did. Sure, alright. Bring it on, woman. Got any other shit you’d like to pile on top of me? Detained children in tent cities? Missing Native American women? What about chemical warfare, that’s always a nice one. Or how about your husband cutting a deal with the Tories, there’s something you can blame on me—”
Harriet pushed to her feet. “What?”
Crowley let his hands fall to his sides. “You heard me.”
The bag crunched as she clenched her fists. An ambassador wasn’t supposed to engage in partisan politics in the nation where he was stationed; it was a breach of ethics.
She had no doubt Thaddeus would do it if the State Department asked him to.
“You chose to keep lying to me,” she said after several deep breaths that she used to recite a mental list of calming things. “You gave the nuns a baby that wasn’t mine and you came to my house to influence my son under my nose. That’s what we’re talking about now.”
His mouth twisted. “Nice to see your self-help books doing some good,” he said spitefully.
“You feel bad about it, don’t you?” She studied him. He was so much more expressive as a man, she realized, and wondered if he felt safer like that.
“Of course I do! I’m not a monster!” He threw up his hands. “You’re a bit of a shitshow, but you’re not so bad. And Warlock is—”
“He was your responsibility for a long time,” Harriet interrupted. “You got attached, I get that. What I’m curious about is whether this is all just to get him out before Thaddeus sinks this family, or if you’re actually attracted to me at all.”
His mouth fell open and he stared. And kept staring. And then he made a noise that sounded like, “ngk,” and stared some more.
Harriet swallowed, heart in her throat as she waited. If he said no, she wasn’t sure what she’d do. Go home and have a drink, probably, because she couldn’t face another rejection, not from someone who—
Who what, exactly? Who’d lied to her repeatedly, who lashed out and hurt her on purpose? Someone who loved her son enough to offer her an escape from her life but who was clearly in love with someone else? What did she think this was, exactly? He was a demon, she was a human. Even if he did love her, she had fifty years left if she was lucky, and he was immortal.
And, she realized with disgust, her own internal monologue sounded like something out of a teenage vampire book. She wasn’t in love with Nanny; she was just desperately attracted to her.
“I mean,” Crowley said haltingly, “I—that is—you know I’m with Aziraphale, right?”
“Yes,” she said, trying to keep her voice even. “I know that. But I didn’t ask about that. I asked if you liked fucking me.”
The self-help books probably hadn’t meant to help her say that, but Harriet liked the way Crowley flushed.
“Yeah, it’s alright,” he said. “Never tried it with a human before.”
She blinked. “But you—” She gestured at his everything.
He sniffed and sucked his teeth. “Wasn’t interested.”
Harriet decided not to press that point. “How does Aziraphale feel about you fucking me?” she asked instead.
That made him snort. “Aziraphale? That little tramp fucked his way across half of London! He’s the one who encouraged me to seduce you!”
“I do not understand your relationship at all,” she said.
“Eh, I was having a nap at the time.” Crowley shrugged. “It’s...I dunno. Why are you so keen about him anyway?”
Harriet shrugged. “Just curious to see what a happy couple looks like, I guess.”
He cast a loaded, ironic look up at the bandstand and made a tsk noise. “Yeah, well. We’ve got our problems, just like everyone else.”
“My husband is committing treason and sleeping with an intern named Tiffany,” Harriet pointed out.
“And we nearly split up over the apocalypse,” snapped Crowley. “You’re not special.”
“You’re turning out to be pretty high maintenance for a casual hookup,” Harriet told him. “Weren’t you supposed to just swan into my life for some great sex and then leave again?”
“I tried that, and you asked difficult questions!”
God, it was refreshing to have someone to be honest with. “Oh, you’re referring to the fact that you lied to me for years and tried to fuck your way out of feeling bad about it?”
“That’s—” Crowley’s jaw dropped. “You need to quit with the self-help books.”
“Watch,” he growled. “I’ll give you the credentials to be a bloody therapist. See how you like it then.”
“I’d make a great therapist,” Harriet mused. “But there’s no way I’m fucking you when you look like Bill Nighy from Love, Actually, so you’d better do something about that.”
“Who says I want to fuck you anyway?” he bleated, but he followed her while she walked to the nearest bin to throw away the remains of her samosa bag.
“Where do you live?” she asked. “Although I suppose we can go to a hotel if you’d prefer. You’d have to pay; Thaddeus gets the credit card bill.”
“A hotel,” he repeated blankly.
Harriet nodded with a poisonous smile. “Was this not part of your plan?” she asked.
“You should put the hotel on your card,” he told her. “Let your useless husband see that someone still wants you even if he doesn’t.”
Harriet sized him up. Even if she’d still been convincing herself she liked men, he wouldn’t be her type. If she squinted though, he still looked enough like Nanny to make him appealing. “So you want me,” she said with a smug smile.
She could see him narrow his eyes behind the glasses. “Not as much as you want me.”
“Make a few minor adjustments and we can talk.”
He circled her with his hip-swaying saunter, sizing her up. “The Pestana’s not far,” he said softly.
Harriet swallowed. “It’s not,” she agreed.
“Close to home,” he purred.
“Yep.” Harriet nodded.
“Expensive.” He raised his eyebrows.
Harriet’s lips curved in a cruel smile. “I’ve got a forty thousand dollar credit line.”
“There’s a girl. Shall we?” He offered her his arm.
Harriet wondered if Thaddeus would even bring it up. Then she decided she didn’t care. She took Crowley’s arm and let him escort her out of the park.
The clerk at the Pestana didn’t even bat an eye when Harriet slid her card across the counter and asked for a suite for a single night. He did ask if she wanted a bottle of champagne sent up.
“No thanks,” she said primly, and took the room keys.
Crowley followed her to the lifts, where they waited next to some very cold looking Italian tourists. They didn’t have the coats for this weather. He rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers as their lift dinged, and as they stepped in Harriet noticed the coats looked a lot warmer.
She gave him a surprised look, which got her a muttered, “shut up.”
“You know,” she said as she studied their reflections, “you sort of look like a gigolo I picked up for the afternoon.”
“Very funny,” he said sourly.
“No, I’m serious. That guy probably thinks you’re about to give me the clap.” She gave him a bright smile.
“I’ll clap your arse if you don’t stop talking back,” he mumbled.
Harriet frowned. “You really don’t come across as the type like this,” she observed. “When you’re a woman, sure, but like this you just seem like the kind of guy who wants a finger up his ass during blowjobs.”
“That’s none of your business,” he told her, scandalized, which made her suspect she was right.
The lift dinged on their floor and the doors opened. Harriet stepped through first, brandishing the room key. “So do you need to call your angel to let him know you’re with me, or what?” She inserted the key and opened the door.
“Nah, it’s fine. I’ll see him tonight anyway.” Crowley ambled through, looking around the room. “Nice,” he said approvingly. “Very nice, Harriet. Just let me pop into the loo to put my lipstick on and we’ll be in business.”
Harriet snorted as he vanished into the bathroom, but in all honesty, she didn’t want to witness the transformation. It would be too jarring, to watch Crowley become Nanny before her eyes. Better to maintain the illusion that they were somehow separate. It made Nanny more fuckable, for one thing.
She stepped over to the window and looked out over London. From here, she could see most of the major landmarks overlooking the Thames, and the boats going to and fro along the river.
“Such a beautiful city,” a low voice murmured; Nanny slipped her arms around Harriet’s waist and pressed a kiss to her neck. “I’ve been here since the year three hundred, did you know that? This little Roman outpost grew to become the most modern city in the world.”
Harriet leaned back, sighing as hot lips moved across the skin of her neck. “It’s home,” she said softly.
Nanny hummed in agreement. “That it is.”
Harriet turned and kissed her, curling a hand around the back of her neck. She tasted like bitter tea and burnt sugar, and Harriet liked it. “This is me saying yes, by the way,” she whispered against crimson lips.
“Thanks for that.” Nanny rolled her eyes. “I was worried, really I was. You checking us into an ostentatious hotel where your husband will see the tab didn’t tip me off at all.”
Harriet rolled her eyes. “You’d better let me feel your tits if you’re going to be a smartass this whole time.”
Nanny smirked. “You’ve grown some teeth since the last time. I like it.”
Harriet gave her a slow smile. “I’ve had a lot of time to think.”
“Oh?” Fuck, it wasn’t fair how this demon could go from a sleazy man to such a sexy woman. “And what have you been thinking about, dear?”
Harriet kissed her again, hard, pushing her tongue into Nanny’s mouth just to feel those hands grip her tighter. “Us,” she whispered, “together. Naked. I want you to touch me. I want to touch you.”
Nanny took a step back, letting her hands fall from Harriet’s body. Harriet missed them immediately, hugging herself as she watched Nanny shrug off her elaborate jacket. She hadn’t been wearing it earlier at the bandstand; the whole outfit was new. Black jacket, red silky blouse that drew Harriet’s eye to her small breasts, and those painted-on jeans that were suddenly a lot more attractive.
Harriet wanted to rip it off with her teeth.
But instead she watched as Nanny let the jacket fall to the floor and wriggled obscenely out of the silky top. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and the sight of her bare torso made Harriet dizzy with longing. Harriet wanted to cup her breasts in her hands, feel tight nipples brushing her palms. She wanted to lick the tender spot between Nanny’s breasts, suck marks onto her pale skin, feel goosebumps rise under her lips.
“Now you,” said Nanny softly.
Harriet swallowed. She undid the belt on her coat and tossed it over the back of a chair, and bent to unzip her boots. She set them aside and then hesitated; she’d worn a wrap dress today, and if she took it off they’d be uneven.
“Harriet.” Nanny’s voice was like honey. “Take it off.”
Harriet untied the dress with shaking fingers, letting it fall open.
Nanny stepped forward and with big, gentle hands pushed it off her shoulders so it slid to the floor with a slithering sound. Then she looked Harriet over.
Harriet closed her eyes, swaying on her feet. “Kiss me again,” she gasped, unable to stand the shivery exposed feeling of Nanny just looking at her.
A hot mouth closed over hers, and Harriet wound her arms around Nanny’s neck, pressing eagerly against her. Nanny’s hands slid up her back, pausing only to unsnap Harriet’s bra. She drew it gently down her shoulders, forcing Harriet to let go. “My, you are a pretty one,” she murmured, skimming her fingers over the sides of Harriet’s breasts.
Harriet shivered, snatching the bra out of Nanny’s hands and tossing it away. “Go lay on the bed,” she said shakily. “I want to get these jeans off you.”
Nanny raised her eyebrows. “Bold little minx,” she purred. “And what do you plan to do then?”
Harriet had no idea, so she shrugged. “Just go lay down.”
Nanny snorted, but laid back and put her arms behind her head. She managed to look both casual and cool lounging on the bed with her tits out. It was completely unfair. “Well?” she challenged. “Come on then if you’re going to unwrap me.”
Harriet calmly walked over to the foot of the bed and used her knee to part Nanny’s legs enough to let her step between them. She liked this, towering over the woman and taking the time to look her fill. Nanny was watching her too, after all, with yellow eyes and smeared lipstick.
She reached down and opened the button on Nanny’s jeans, then slowly drew the zipper down. Nanny lifted her hips obligingly.
Harriet dropped to her knees and slipped the black pumps off her feet before she tugged the jeans down. It was more of a struggle than it should have been, given how tight they were, but she got the impression Nanny was amused by making her work for it.
Well. Harriet supposed that made sense. She’d wrong-footed Crowley earlier, and it was only to be expected that a demon would be petty. She finally got the damned (possibly literally) jeans off and slid her hand up a pale shin, drawn like a magnet to the cherry-red scrap of silk that could generously be called underwear. There were a lot of straps for so little fabric, showing tantalizing strips of milk-pale hip.
“You wore slutty panties for me?” Harriet asked with a breathless little laugh.
“What, you’d rather I dressed for comfort?” Nanny smirked, arching her back performatively. She knew how to work the sex appeal, Harriet would give her that.
Instead of responding to the sarcasm, Harriet stroked reverent fingers up those long legs. It had been ages since she’d been between a woman’s legs, and she was remembering how much she’d enjoyed it the last time. “The last girl I went down on told me I was better than her boyfriend,” she told Nanny. “I’d never even done it before.”
Nanny snorted. “My boyfriend doesn’t need to breathe, girl. Don’t compete, you’re only human.”
“Bitch,” Harriet told her cheerfully. “I bet he gives great head when you’re a guy.”
“I’m never a guy,” Nanny pointed out. “I’m never really a woman either, but I’ll pass along your compliment about Aziraphale’s cocksucking acumen.”
“Thank you,” said Harriet primly, and ran her fingertips along the edge of those silky panties. Usually she hated that word, but she’d be damned if she could think of a better word for such obviously sexual underwear. She felt giddy, drunk on the rush of having a gorgeous woman—or demon—laid out in front of her. Where to even start?
Part of her was worried about looking too eager. Years of trying too hard and being met with indifference or condescension gave a girl a complex, but she didn’t think Nanny would respond that way. She suspected, from seeing Crowley the demon, that there was something deep down there that was desperate to be wanted. So really, the hesitation was just holding them both back.
Harriet pressed a kiss to the inside of her knee, scooting forward to trail her lips up the inside of Nanny’s thigh. She used her hands to push her legs open, smiling when Nanny went with it. That strip of red fabric between her legs was driving Harriet crazy. It was so thin, and clinging, and she could almost see the outline of Nanny’s pussy through it. The tease was just short of unbearable, and ended up somewhere around delicious.
She stuck out her tongue and let herself lick the fabric.
Nanny’s leg twitched.
“Did you know a clitoris has double the nerve endings a dick does?” Harriet asked carefully.
“Does it?” Nanny asked tightly.
“Yeah.” Harriet licked those silky panties again. “You should keep it in mind next time Aziraphale wants to fool around.”
“Right,” Nanny choked out. “Thanks, yeah, great tip.”
Harriet hummed smugly and tugged the panties aside. If she’d had any doubts about Nanny wanting her, they were gone now. She pressed a careful finger inside her, shivering at how easily it slid in. “I want to make you feel so good,” she whispered.
“Then do it,” Nanny whispered back.
Harriet closed her eyes and moved in. The moment her tongue touched skin, she remembered how good this was, how much she loved it. The smell, the taste, the thrill of pleasuring another woman until she was a shaking mess. She wanted to live here, nose buried in the thatch of red hair at the junction of Nanny’s thighs while she tongued at her hard, swollen clit.
Nanny’s breath hitched. She was clutching the pillow under her head, hips shifting restlessly under Harriet’s mouth. Her thighs twitched again, so Harriet turned on impulse and nipped one, and that made Nanny moan softly.
Harriet glanced up and went back to lapping gently at her clit. As she watched, Nanny bit her lip. Her hair was still perfectly coiffed, but that was alright. Harriet could run her hands through it later.
For now she doubled her efforts, crooking her finger gently as she licked. Nanny made another little sound at that, arching her hips, so Harriet did it again. And then again, harder, so that she could hear the hissing gasp Nanny let out.
“I think it’s time to take these off, don’t you?” Harriet asked, pulling away to hook a finger in the crotch of Nanny’s underwear. She tugged, just a little, and let go. The spandex snapped back into place and made Nanny jump.
“We’ll see how you like it when it’s your turn,” Nanny hissed, pushing her hips up to shove the underwear down.
Harriet helped her with them, unbothered by the hissing. “If I’m bad, will you punish me?” she asked lightly.
“Oh, you’d like that, you little trollop,” Nanny growled. “Always so eager to let someone degrade you. You’re filthy, you know that?”
Harriet pushed her legs apart with a little more force than she’d dared to use before. “You’re dirty too. You pulled my dress up in the middle of Harrods and made me moan like a whore. Don’t tell me you didn’t get off on it.”
Nanny merely scowled at her, so Harriet slid her hands up her thighs before bending to press a wet kiss against the inside of one. “Did you go home and fuck Aziraphale extra hard after?”
Nanny grabbed a fistful of her hair, making Harriet gasp. “Is this jealousy, girl? If it is, get over it now. He was here before you were born and he’ll be here after you die.”
Harriet’s eyes went wide. “No!” She shoved at Nanny’s hand. “I’m not jealous, I just—think it’s hot, in a weird way? I don’t know!”
Nanny peered at her, but her grip relaxed. “You get off on me shagging Aziraphale?”
Harriet squirmed. “I really wasn’t thinking too hard about it,” she said.
“You really do like being used and degraded,” said Nanny blankly. “It turns you on thinking about me going home and telling him how I had you while we fuck.”
“Partly,” said Harriet, letting her eyes fall shut at the feel of those fingers in her hair. “And part of it is the idea that doing things to me gets you so excited you have to go—I don’t know, take it out on him.”
Nanny narrowed her eyes. “My, you’re full of surprises. Naughty girl, Harriet. I like this new side of you. Now get back to work,” she said, shoving Harriet’s head down between her legs. “You don’t want me telling Aziraphale you left me unsatisfied, do you?”
Harriet moaned and did as she was told, licking her sloppily. She should be embarrassed by how wet the hair pulling got her, but she wasn’t. It was easy to lean into the things she liked with Nanny, and push two fingers into her while she lapped at her clit.
The way Nanny’s back arched when she did that was amazing; it filled Harriet with pride, made her more determined to do well. “Hey,” she panted against Nanny’s skin, noting the way her breath made her shiver, “if you and Aziraphale only fuck when you have a dick, does this mean I’m the first one to eat you out?”
Nanny groaned, throwing an arm over her face. “Shut up.”
Harriet gave her a soft kiss, directly on her clit. “I am, aren’t I?”
Nanny’s hips jerked. “Yes, you smug little whore,” she hissed. “Are you happy?”
Harriet crooked her fingers, pulling another groan from deep in Nanny’s chest. “Almost,” she said, and sucked Nanny’s clit into her mouth.
“Shit!” Nanny hissed, jackknifing up only to fall back when Harriet curled her fingers again. “Shit, shit, shit, you filthy—God, that feels amazing. Good girl, good girl,” she panted, staring down at Harriet with her mouth hanging open.
Harriet kept it up, moving from the elbow as she fingerfucked her. She was getting addicted to the wild hissing gasps and the way Nanny bucked her hips when Harriet flicked her tongue across her clit. It wouldn’t be long now; Nanny’s thighs were trembling and she was making these soft, high noises.
“Tell me when you’re about to come?” Harriet pulled off long enough to ask, and then slurped messily over her clit before she started sucking again.
“Ah—” Nanny’s voice was shaking. “Yeah, fuck, anything you like. Just don’t stop, okay? Don’t you dare stop...”
Harriet moaned, closing her eyes to better focus. This was so much hotter than the best sex she’d ever had with a man. She was going to crave this for the rest of her life, she knew, because the way Nanny’s voice cracked when she moaned, “oh God, I’m coming,” and went rigid was the sexiest thing she’d ever experienced. Harriet gripped her thigh with her free hand and held on as Nanny rode it out. Then she sat back and wiped her chin, gasping for breath.
Nanny lay on the bed, chest heaving as she stared blankly up at the ceiling.
“Nice to know I’ll be memorable,” Harriet said after a few moments where neither of them spoke.
“Get up here,” Nanny told her without moving.
Harriet crawled onto the bed with less grace than she might have liked. Nanny raised an arm and she slid under it, resting a hand on her chest and laying her head against her shoulder. She was warm, and Harriet turned to press a kiss to her neck.
Nanny hummed quietly, eyes sliding closed like a happy lizard sunning itself on a rock. “I’m going to do that to Aziraphale when I get home,” she said. “He never changes gender, I bet he has no idea.”
Harriet smirked. “Tell him I said you’re welcome.”
Nanny snorted, trailing her fingers up and down Harriet’s bare back. “I think I see now. You’re not jealous, you’re competitive. You want to feel like you’ve as much to offer as he does.”
“At least in the sack,” she said with a shrug. “You’re sort of on a different level than me otherwise.”
“Nah.” Nanny tugged her closer. “Being human is fantastic. Free will, all the pleasures the Earth has to offer, knowledge of good and evil...it’s so much better than being an angel.”
“Even with the state of the world?” Harriet mused.
“World’s been bad before,” Nanny said with a lazy wave of her hand. “It’ll get better and then go bad again. Always does. But there’s always something worth hanging onto even in the worst of it.”
“An optimistic demon,” Harriet said, propping herself up on an elbow. “No wonder Warlock is so sweet, with you teaching him to be evil.”
Nanny snorted. “We were trying to make him love the world so he wouldn’t end it.”
Harriet tipped her chin up and kissed her, slow and deep, and drank in the startled, muffled noise she made. “I’m still furious about what happened to me,” she whispered against Nanny’s lips, “but thank you for that.”
Nanny blinked up at her, looking impossibly lost. A powerful immortal being wasn’t supposed to look like a scared child, but she did, so Harriet kissed her again. She kissed her until they were both breathless, and she didn’t resist when Nanny rolled her onto her back.
“You and your clever little mouth were very good indeed,” Nanny murmured, trailing lips over Harriet’s jaw. “I imagine you got terribly excited during all that, didn’t you?”
Harriet squirmed, tangling her fingers in Nanny’s hair. “Yeah,” she whispered.
“We’ll just have to take care of you then.” Nanny pressed a delicate kiss to Harriet’s collarbone.
Harriet’s breath picked up; the feel of bare skin against hers and the way Nanny smoothly got a knee between Harriet’s legs were reminding her how turned on she really was. Moments of—tenderness? Empathy?—were great after an orgasm, but Harriet had come here to get off. Hopefully more than once.
Nanny’s mouth moved down, roving across her skin to tease and taste. Harriet arched when soft lips brushed her nipple, and then moaned at the tongue that darted out to taste. Nanny hummed then, reaching up to cup Harriet’s other breast with her big warm hand.
It felt so good; Harriet found herself shifting her hips, trying her best to grind against Nanny’s thigh between her legs.
“You really are needy.” Nanny chuckled before sucking Harriet’s nipple into her mouth.
Harriet groaned; Nanny pinched the other nipple between clever fingers and alternated between the two, torturing Harriet in the sweetest way possible. “Fuck,” she panted. “God, please, just—”
“Hm?” Nanny raised her head and gave Harriet a wicked smirk. “What is it, dear?”
“Touch me,” Harriet whispered. “Please, I want you to touch me.”
Nanny tilted her head; Harriet was pleased to see that she’d made a mess of her perfect hair. “But I am touching you, dear. Did you mean you wanted me to spread your legs and lick you through those messy knickers until you scream yourself hoarse?”
Harriet’s whole body flushed with wanting. “Oh shit,” she whispered. “Please.”
Nanny smirked. “That’s right,” she said slowly. “No woman’s ever done this to you before either.”
Harriet shook her head mutely. Part of her had hoped, when she and Sam became friends after the drunk incident when she pledged, that maybe the other girl would return the favor, but it had never happened. She wasn’t completely sure she wouldn’t spontaneously combust when it happened now.
God, and Nanny would do it right. Not the two minute half-assed bullshit Thaddeus did on the rare occasions she demanded foreplay. No, Nanny savored her, treated her body like it was a delicacy and took her time accordingly. It was decadent, being enjoyed like this. Harriet stretched her arms out to either side and arched as prettily as she could. “Please, Nanny?”
“Oh, you ask so nicely,” Nanny cooed. “What happened to being a bad girl? Remember, you wanted me to punish you?”
Fuck, she had wanted that. Harriet licked her lips, squirming at the evil smirk on Nanny’s face. “But I thought I did a good job earlier,” she said breathlessly.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, dear, but I believe you got as much out of that as I did.” Nanny quirked an eyebrow. “Besides, I could give you what you think you want and send you on your way, but you like it better when things aren’t so simple.” She smiled. “Or sweet.”
Harriet watched her sit up and bit her lip. “So what are you going to do?”
“You know, I had a whole plan when I ambushed you at your massage appointment. Although I have to say, I expected you to put up at least a token resistance. People often get terribly defensive about things that really get them off.”
Harriet sat up too, and gave Nanny a coy look. “So you’re saying I ruined your plans to seduce me.”
Nanny hummed. “This is all a bit tame for you, isn’t it, Harriet? Clandestine hotel hookup. Sleazy, sure, but not quite the edge you were looking for.”
“It is more straightforward,” Harriet agreed. “You can surprise me next time.”
Nanny’s eyebrows flew nearly to her hairline. “Next time? So you’ve already agreed?”
“You have to offer three times though, right?” Harriet carefully didn’t answer the question. “Because if next time is meant to seal the deal, you’d better make it pretty fucking spectacular.”
Nanny’s smile was a slow, predatory thing. “Got it,” she purred. “But for now...” She pushed Harriet back and hooked her finger in the waistband of her underwear. “These are filthy, you know. What kind of depraved little thing gets this wet just from pleasuring a woman? I haven’t even touched you and you’ve already soaked your knickers. What am I to do with that, Harriet?”
Harriet wasn’t sure what to call the noise she made at that, but it was just as needy as Nanny accused her of being. She held her breath as Nanny tugged her underwear down, pulse pounding in her ears.
“Dirty,” Nanny pronounced them, giving them an appraising look once they were off her legs. “Absolutely filthy. Open your mouth, girl.”
Harriet squeezed her eyes shut. “Nanny...”
“Do as you're told, dear,” she said firmly.
There was no arguing with that voice. Harriet opened her mouth and moaned loudly as Nanny stuffed her underwear inside. Fuck, she could taste herself. It was disgusting and humiliating, and she was so turned on that she could feel her pulse beating between her legs. She couldn’t beg like this, so she squirmed, trying to look appealing.
Nanny glanced down. “Writhing already? My my, you do like this, don’t you? Well,” she said, sliding her fingers between Harriet’s legs, “we’ll set you right soon enough.” She pushed two fingers into her, crooking them mercilessly.
Harriet screamed, the sound muffled by the fabric in her mouth. Nanny fingerfucked her relentlessly, adding a third finger and then casually laying an arm across Harriet’s hips to hold her still when she bucked into it. It was good, it was so good, and Harriet thought she might die happy if Nanny just touched her clit.
“How close can you get just from my fingers, Harriet?” Nanny hissed, leaning over her pussy to breathe against it. “You’re squirming a great deal. It must feel very good, dear. Are you ready for it to end? Or should I keep you like this a little longer? You’re awfully pretty, after all...”
Harriet sobbed, jerking her head back and forth. She couldn’t take much more of this, she really couldn’t. She wanted to come, Nanny had to make her come...
She squealed around her underwear when Nanny finally bent to lick her pussy. Her tongue seemed to reach everywhere, licking and slurping and applying pressure exactly where Harriet needed it. She rocked her hips up, grinding against Nanny’s face as she tried to keep her head up to watch. God, her mouth was so hot, hot like hellfire, nudging Harriet closer and closer with each flick of her clever tongue.
Nanny kept the arm slung across her hips, holding her down and making her take it. She didn’t stop with her fingers either, and Harriet was sobbing great heaving breaths as she lost her mind under Nanny’s hands and mouth. She was going to come, there was no holding it back, it kept building and building deep in her abdomen. It was frightening in its intensity, and she wanted to beg, but couldn’t around the cloth in her mouth.
It was probably inappropriate to make claims about seeing God when you were getting fucked by a demon, but when Harriet came it felt like she’d transcended somehow. Nanny held her still and tongued her clit until she thrashed and screamed and came again, and it didn’t seem possible that she’d been capable of feeling like this all along and hadn’t known it until now.
When Nanny sat back and delicately wiped her mouth, Harriet ripped the underwear out of her mouth and flexed her jaw. “Fuck,” she breathed, curling her toes just to see if she could still move them.
Nanny hummed, setting herself to rights with a snap of her fingers. “Good thing I gagged you, dear. You’d have screamed the house down and gotten security called on us.”
Harriet glared at her, but it was weak. After all, she wasn’t wrong. “How bad is my sex hair?” she asked, sitting up. “You’ll fix it, right?”
Nanny pursed her lips and snapped again, and Harriet could feel herself get clean somehow. It was strange and disconcerting, but she did appreciate not being sticky.
“Thanks,” she said, stretching luxuriously.
“Clearly I’ve got a type,” Nanny muttered resentfully, picking Harriet’s dress off the floor. She gave it a shake and got to her feet, sashaying naked across the room to lay it across the back of the chair over the coat that was currently there.
Harriet picked up the red panties off the floor and twirled them around her finger. “I’m almost tempted to keep these,” she told Nanny. “Except that I wouldn’t mind seeing them on you again.”
“Flirt.” Nanny batted her eyes. It should worry Harriet, how the yellow didn’t scare her. “Give those back this instant.”
Harriet handed them over, smirking, and watched Nanny slip them on. She snapped them into place and threw Harriet a playful look.
It made Harriet grin before she slipped her own underwear on. “Let me know how Aziraphale likes it,” she said.
Nanny snorted. “Competitive little tart,” she said fondly. “I’ll tell him you’re a naughty slut who likes to be gagged with her own knickers.”
Harriet stepped close and slipped her arms around Nanny’s neck. “And don’t forget the part where I like to kiss the taste of myself off your lips.”
“Dirty girl.” Nanny’s hands curved around her ass as she bent to kiss her. She opened her mouth to let Harriet lick into it, and made a gratifying noise when Harriet sucked on her tongue.
When they broke the kiss, Harriet sighed. “I suppose I have to go home, don’t I?” she asked, dropping her head against Nanny’s shoulder.
“You’ve got the best kid in the world to go home to,” Nanny reminded her gently.
Harriet nodded, but she curled her hands against Nanny’s chest anyway. The thought of going home and pretending things were fine with Thaddeus was exhausting. She hated the silences between the bullshit small talk, the tolerant housewife act she put on, asking how his day had gone when they both knew neither of them cared.
Nanny’s hand moved from her ass to her back, petting her comfortingly. “Buck up, dear,” she whispered.
Harriet nodded, taking a deep breath before she stepped back. She could feel her face smooth out into her perfect politician’s wife expression, and she smiled brightly.
From there it wasn't much to get dressed and head down together. They rode the lift down, and Nanny became Crowley again, slouching in the corner and sauntering out like he owned the building. Harriet followed, amused by the way heads turned to gaze after him longingly. She wondered if that was as much of an ego trip for Aziraphale as it was for her.
He turned on his heel and kissed her cheek in the lobby. “Take care, Harriet dear. Always so good to see you. Give your boy my love.”
“Always,” said Harriet, trying not to smile too broadly. “Likewise.”
He tapped the side of his glasses and ambled out of the lobby. Harriet watched him go, shaking her head fondly.
Dinner that night was chicken Kiev with blanched asparagus, and she ate it alone with Warlock as he procrastinated over his spelling. Thaddeus had at least called to let her know he’d be working late. There was a conference call with Washington, apparently, and Harriet bit back the urge to ask if it had anything to do with the Tories. The less she knew, the better. With any luck, she’d be out before it blew up in his face.
“How do you test out of spelling?” Warlock asked her.
“No idea,” she answered absently, flipping a page of her latest book.
He sighed heavily and went back to it.
The best kid in the world, Nanny called him. Harriet wondered what Thaddeus said about their son when she wasn’t there. “Hey,” she said, “I saw your old nanny again today. At Battersea Park.”
He raised his head. “You did?”
“Yeah.” She smiled. “She’s with the gardner now, did you know that? He wasn’t there today, so we had lunch.” They ate out, so it was almost true. “She says to give you her love.”
Warlock made a face, like he always did at the prospect of affection. “Yeah, well, I’m glad she’s doing okay,” he mumbled.
“I might see her again,” said Harriet thoughtfully. “She’s nice.”
“What, you’re gonna be friends with my old nanny?” Warlock frowned. “Isn’t that weird, since you used to be her boss?”
“I’m not her boss anymore, am I?” Harriet shrugged “Besides, why shouldn’t I be her friend? We already have you in common, and she’s got great taste in clothes.”
Warlock wrinkled his nose at that. “It’s just weird,” he muttered.
“Too bad, kid,” she told him cheerfully. “But I promise we won’t reminisce over how cute you were when you were little.”
“Pinky swear. Now eat something green. It’s good for you,” she said.
“You know I hate asparagus,” he whined.
“How does anyone hate asparagus? It has sauce, eat it with that.”
“Can’t I just eat the chicken?” he wheedled.
“The chicken that’s full of butter? Just that chicken? I don’t think so.” Harriet ate a piece of her own asparagus. “This is delicious.”
Warlock stabbed a piece defiantly and chewed it, glaring at her the whole time. “If I eat half of it, is that okay?”
Harriet considered. “Sure,” she finally said. After all, life was about picking your battles.
That was the same reason she said nothing about the pink smear on Thaddeus’s collar when he got home, or the smell of another woman’s cunt on his fingers when he brushed her hair back from her face to kiss her forehead before bed. She wondered if anything still lingered on her from earlier, and whether Thaddeus would know to look even if there was.
Harriet wanted to ask when he’d fallen out of love with her, and why they were still pretending. Strangely, she felt less hostile toward him than she had in years, and mostly viewed him with a detached sort of pity. She would be able to get out, but he’d be trapped with the choices he made. And she knew things now that he could never dream of. Things about angels and demons and plans for the end of everything. Harriet had seen that world and now she couldn’t look at her own the same way anymore. Armageddon was great for perspective, even if it hadn’t quite happened.
After Thaddeus fell asleep, Harriet got up and grabbed her book. She paused on her way out the door, wondering if the sight of her sleeping husband would fill her with the odd tenderness that she sometimes felt for him. Should she look back to see?
She nearly did. Would have, probably, if she hadn’t remembered the treason, and the neglect, and the thousand little broken promises that had gotten them here. Harriet stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind her. She had a book to read.
Telling Warlock was going to be the hardest part. Harriet could deal with the rest, but having to sit her son down and tell him that life was really going to change would be more difficult than she was ready for.
Harriet downloaded several self-help books onto her phone in preparation for the conversation, and hoped that between all of them, she’d have a template to work from. The truth was, she didn’t know any divorced people. Divorce was something the middle class did; in her social circles, you simply stayed married and avoided each other unless the man decided to marry his mistress. If a starter wife lasted through the mid-life crisis, she was considered to have it made. Harriet was about to torpedo Thaddeus’s reputation by walking away having cleared that hurdle. Wives didn’t leave.
God, the rules people made for themselves were exhausting. She took a sip of tea and set her book down, considering. She had enough money that she should be fabulously happy. The fact that she wasn’t was due to playing a game that would in theory make her happier but instead made her miserable. What was the point? Harriet couldn’t seem to remember what it was anymore.
The problem was then figuring out a different set of rules to live by. Harriet wasn’t sure how much time she had to knock together a plan for her new life, or what would be provided for her, so she was doing research. Not that she thought Crowley and Aziraphale would strand her with nothing, but it seemed sensible to have a plan anyway. Just in case.
She did like the idea of going into psychology, maybe even for people who had touched the supernatural like she had. Who else was going to believe them, after all? Harriet had no idea what the market looked like there, but she’d ask Crowley. He would probably know.
Or maybe she’d write her own self-help book. She took another sip of tea and let herself imagine sitting at a desk by a window, rain pattering against the glass as she typed words of wisdom on a sleek laptop. It had some appeal. She could set her own hours, for one thing, and have dinner waiting in the Instant Pot for when Warlock got home from school. Just the two of them.
Yeah, it had some appeal.
The other thing that made her pause when she imagined this new life for herself was Crowley’s place in it. Harriet was a woman of simple needs. She wanted her son, a sense of self-worth, and a reasonable amount of very good sex with a very attractive woman. Once a week or so sounded perfect.
She didn’t want a relationship. That seemed too complicated right now, what with the way the last one she’d attempted had worked out. Besides, the woman she wanted to keep having sex with was happily engaged elsewhere most of the time. Honestly, the current arrangement suited Harriet perfectly. She just wasn’t sure how to bring up the notion of continuing it past the agreed-upon closing date.
Harriet wanted to not be in love for awhile. She wanted to define herself as a mother and a woman, not someone’s wife or girlfriend. It was too hard to keep hold of yourself when you belonged to someone else; Warlock was the only one who could have that much of her. He’d made do with less for too long, so she owed him that much. But romance? No thanks. She could just as easily go to dinner or a play with friends. If she could keep sleeping with Nanny, she’d have everything she needed. It would be very tidy.
Maybe that was why she didn’t have any faith that she’d get to have it. If she were in love with someone, she wouldn’t necessarily want to share them. She should probably be grateful that Aziraphale was fine with the three times Harriet had been promised.
She was counting down the days now, as winter crept timidly into spring and green started to appear in the world again. If Crowley appreciated symbolism as much as Harriet suspected, this would be the season for new beginnings. And if Harriet flung herself into a whirlwind of activity, cleaning out the house and setting her affairs in order, then she was just being prepared.
She found herself sitting among boxes of photo albums one morning, around ten when the house was just hers aside from the staff. She cracked one open and stared down at a picture of herself and Thaddeus. It was summer and they were at a party; she recognized her parents’ backyard. He had a hand on her waist and they were smiling. Harriet was pregnant.
And all of a sudden she was weeping, pressing a hand over her mouth and trying not to make enough noise to alert the cleaners. She wept for the woman in that photo, who thought her husband would spend more time at home once he was a father, and she wept for the baby she’d carried. The one they stole from her. And she wept for the woman who’d carried Warlock, wherever she was. She’d loved her baby too, and she probably had no idea what had happened, so she couldn’t cry over it. So Harriet would cry for both of them, and for what they’d lost.
Warlock found her later, halfway into a bottle of Sauvignon blanc. “I thought you were gonna stop,” he said accusingly.
She wiped her eyes and gave him a bleary look. “I know,” she told him sadly, sliding down further in the armchair. “I had a bad day.”
He gave her a betrayed, disgusted look and went upstairs. Harriet listened and sniffled, and then shuffled to her feet and dumped out the rest. She rinsed the glass and filled it with water and drank that, and closed her eyes as she took some centering breaths.
She’d had a bad day, yeah, but that was no excuse. God, was she really going to crawl back into a bottle when she was so close to getting out? Harriet filled the glass again with water and took a sip, feeling disgusted with herself. Then she set the glass down and climbed the stairs. “Warlock?” she called through the closed door. “Honey, I'd like to talk to you.”
The door opened. “Are you drunk?” he asked suspiciously. “I don’t wanna talk to you if you’re drunk.”
“I’m not drunk,” she sighed. She was barely even buzzed, thanks to a truly horrifying alcohol tolerance that she’d built up over the last ten years. “I dumped the rest of the bottle.”
Warlock glared at her, but left to go fling himself onto his bed, where he’d spread out some of his books.
Harriet stepped cautiously after him, looking around her son’s room with new eyes. She took a seat in the chair where Nanny used to sing to him. If she concentrated, she could remember snippets of the lullaby.
“Well?” he demanded. “What did you want to say?”
She looked at her son, studying his face. God, she loved him. She had no idea how to tell him any of the things she needed to. “I found something out recently, honey,” she finally said.
He blew a piece of hair out of his face and looked skeptical.
Harriet swallowed and changed the subject. “If your dad and I split up, who would you want to live with?”
That got his attention. “Are you getting divorced?” he asked eagerly.
“This stays between us,” she told him, pointing a stern finger in his direction. “I mean it, Warlock. Not a word. I’m trusting you here.”
He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “You’re really gonna do it?” he asked in a much quieter voice.
“I’m getting some things in order,” she confessed. “But I needed you to be prepared.”
“Have you talked to Dad yet?”
“No.” She shook her head. “Not yet. I’m working out how to make him understand I’m not angry at him.”
“That’s new,” Warlock muttered.
“I know,” she admitted. “We’ll be happier apart, honey. I just want to do whatever I can to make you happy too.”
He was studying his tartan comforter with intent, picking at a thread. “I used to ask Nanny why you didn’t get divorced,” he finally said.
Harriet bit her lip. “I know.”
“She said sometimes people were too afraid to be alone. Is that what it was?”
Harriet considered. “I was,” she finally said. “Not anymore.”
“Oh.” He swallowed. “I’m gonna have to move, huh?”
“You can stay with your dad if you’d rather,” she said, something squeezing painfully in her chest. “I’m sure there will be people around who can—”
“I’m not staying with Dad,” he said fiercely.
She swallowed. “That’s fine. And if you change your mind, that’s fine too. I want you to be where you’re happiest.”
“Except I’m not gonna change my mind. Why would I want to live with Dad? He’s never around.” Warlock gave her a narrow, suspicious look. “You want me to live with Dad?” he spat at her.
Harriet’s heart broke. How could she love him so much and show it so badly that he didn’t know how she wanted him? “Warlock,” she said, and then took a deep breath. “Of course I want you with me. But I wanted to give you the space to make up your own mind. I’m not going to have as much money as your dad after we split. Things are going to change a lot. And...” she hesitated, and then forced herself to say it. “If I ever start dating again, I’d be dating women.”
Warlock sat up very quickly. “You’re gay?” he shouted.
Harriet winced. “Yeah,” she admitted.
His mouth dropped open. “Then why did you marry Dad?”
“Sometimes people know when they’re young,” she said, trying to hide the pleading note in her voice. “And sometimes people ignore it and try to have a life they know their parents want for them. I can’t ignore it anymore, honey. And I don’t want you growing up thinking that a marriage like mine and your dad’s is a good thing. We’re not happy.”
He kept staring at her, with a funny little nose crinkle that make him look like a confused puppy. It would be hopelessly endearing if she wasn’t so afraid of what might come out of his mouth.
She swallowed and forced a smile. “I just thought you should know before you made a decision.”
His brow creased. “So what made you figure it out now?” he asked bluntly.
Harriet shrugged. “I’ve been reading a lot of self-help books,” she said, which wasn’t untrue.
Warlock narrowed his eyes at her. “No one else’s mom is a lesbian at school,” he said, in a tone that implied he didn’t want to be the only one.
“That you know,” Harriet countered. “Relax. I’m not looking at dating anyone right now. I’m going to have to learn to be single before I can even think about meeting someone new.”
He sucked his teeth and refused to meet her eyes. And that was fine. It wasn’t every day that an adolescent boy had to deal with the earth-shattering notion that his mom might be checking out the same tits he was. She’d give him some time to process.
Finally he asked, “how do you learn to be single?”
Harriet laughed. “Mostly by trying to like yourself.”
Warlock’s face scrunched up. “Yeah, okay,” he said with a trace of wistfulness. “That does sound hard.”
“I like myself better when I’m around you,” she told him with a little smile, and stretched out her hand to him.
His lip curled as he stared at it, but then he sighed. “Shut up,” he muttered, curling his sweaty hand around hers.
His hand used to be so much smaller, so tiny he could barely grip one of her fingers. It was amazing, how one little baby could grow so fast into a gangling, surly boy. Harriet gave his not-so-small hand a squeeze and smiled, sparing a thought to the other son she had out there somewhere. She hoped to God—if God was listening—that he had a mom who loved him even half as much as Harriet loved Warlock. And maybe one who was better at being a functional human being. He deserved that. Every kid did.
“I love you,” she told her son.
He mumbled something that might have been, “I love you too,” but was directed into his lap, so she couldn’t confirm.
She’d take it. After all, her self-help books said she should embrace the imperfect.
The hand that closed over her mouth, jerking her out of a sound sleep, wasn’t entirely a surprise. Harriet didn’t shout, just inhaled the scent of salt and smoke. Then she relaxed. The hand remained for another moment, and then vanished.
“Bit complacent,” Nanny whispered lightly against her ear.
Harriet rolled over to face her. “No one else wants to touch me in this bed,” she whispered back.
“Shame, that.” She wasn’t wearing her glasses. Her eyes gleamed in the dark.
“I wanted to talk to you,” Harriet confessed.
“Oh?” Nanny propped herself up on an elbow. The strap of her black silky nightgown slipped off her shoulder.
Harriet made a face and pushed it back up. “Let’s go downstairs,” she suggested.
In the kitchen, she put the kettle on.
“You know,” said Nanny, kicking her feet idly at one of the tall kitchen stools, “I’d planned on ravishing you in your lonely neglected marriage bed. It was going to be spectacular.”
Harriet gave her a fondly exasperated look.
“I even wore the trashy knickers you like.” Nanny leered at her.
“How did Aziraphale like the oral sex?” Harriet asked instead of thinking about Nanny’s trashy knickers.
“Loved it,” Nanny told her briskly. “Big fan, yep. Probably gonna work it into our usual repertoire.”
“Glad to hear it.” Harriet got two mugs out and set them on the counter. “I want to renegotiate terms.”
“Oh?” Nanny leaned forward, resting her chin in her hand. She swayed slightly, Harriet noticed. Like a snake.
Harriet dropped a teabag into each mug. “In light of all the factors,” she explained.
A flash of guilt crossed Nanny’s face, making her look less like the bombshell she was made up to be and more like Crowley. “Right.”
“I want you to help me find my biological son,” Harriet said firmly. “I have to know he’s okay somewhere, just for my own peace of mind. And if he’s not, you need to make him okay. Does that seem fair?”
Crowley looked stricken, but nodded.
Harriet nodded too and poured them both tea. “I’d also like a little more detail about what happens after I leave. What are you providing and what will I be responsible for? I can’t plan with so many unknowns.”
“Reasonable,” Crowley muttered, slurping the tea obnoxiously.
Harriet ignored it. “And I’d like to keep sleeping together, if you’re amenable.” How had she become the kind of woman who said things like that? She never used to be this assertive.
“Could be.” Crowley looked amused. “I can ask what Aziraphale thinks.”
“Perfect. I don’t want a relationship for the foreseeable future, but it seems a shame to walk away from good sex.”
“So you’re proposing an Arrangement,” Crowley said, laying an amused emphasis on the word that Harriet didn’t quite understand.
She decided to ignore it. “Sure, why not?”
“As far as what to expect after you leave, I assumed I’d be handling most of it,” said Crowley with a shrug. “Things would sort of...fall into place as you decided what you wanted to do with yourself.”
It was Harriet’s turn to look amused. “So what, a house would become available in whatever location I wanted to live? And it would just happen to be within my budget? That sort of thing?”
“More or less, yeah. Warlock likes his school? He can stay there. You find one that suits him better? A place opens and wouldn’t you know, tuition is so reasonable this term. Amazing, isn’t it?” Crowley grinned.
“You could almost say miraculous.” Harriet grinned back.
“You could.” Crowley saluted her with the mug. “So how about it, Harriet? We can end it all here, tonight. All you’d have to do is bend over the counter—just here would be fine. I can take care of the rest.”
Harriet raised her mug to her lips. “But all the terms aren’t settled. I’m not spreading my legs in a cold kitchen if I don’t know whether it’s the last time you’ll ever be between them.”
“For he—what d’you want me to do, call him?” Crowley demanded.
“You probably should.” Harriet sipped her tea.
Crowley stared at her. “Unbelievable.”
Harriet watched as Crowley set down the mug and pulled a sleek black phone from—somewhere, and pressed a button. “Angel!” Crowley barked. “Yeah, I know I’m supposed to be—” there was a pause, during which Crowley coughed and went faintly pink. “Yes, but see, she wants to know if we can keep shagging after it’s done!”
There was another, longer pause this time. Harriet found herself gripping her mug rather tightly.
“Said she doesn’t want a relationship,” Crowley murmured after a moment. “No, suppose you can’t.” Another pause. “Yes, I know it’s only sex, angel, I’m the one who gave them the idea in the first place.” Crowley stopped. “Oh, alright, fine, they came up with it themselves. You know what my point is.”
Harriet frowned, trying to follow the thread of this conversation.
“Oh, bless it all, why don’t you just talk to her then?” Crowley thrust the phone at Harriet and stalked away, muttering darkly.
Harriet raised it gingerly to her ear. “Hello?”
“Ah, Harriet,” said a smooth pleasant voice on the other end. It immediately made her feel warmer. “I hear you’re becoming an accomplished negotiator.”
“Thank you,” she said, feeling awkward in spite of herself. She didn’t know what to say to the partner of the demon she’d been sleeping with.
“I don’t suppose he’s bothered to tell you that he and I are quite a recent development?” asked Aziraphale lightly.
Harriet blinked. “I—no. I didn’t know that.”
“Quite recent,” Aziraphale repeated. “And he’s rather newer to sex with humans than I am. You are, in fact, the only other being besides myself who’s had the pleasure of knowing Crowley...shall we say biblically?”
Harriet craned her neck to where the demon was poking around her pantry and clucking with disapproval. “I hadn’t realized it was that recent.”
“Quite. Hard to believe, isn’t it? He’s a marvelously quick study.”
“You don’t sound jealous,” she said slowly.
“I’m a being of love, Harriet. Love isn’t jealous, as a rule. My concerns have nothing to do with that, my dear. It would simply be hypocritical of me.”
“I’m not sure I’m following,” Harriet told him.
“It’s difficult to explain without sounding terribly arrogant, so I do hope you’ll forgive me. You are a young woman in reasonably good health. Given that, I anticipate you ought to live another fifty years, perhaps even sixty.”
“Knock on wood,” Harriet agreed. “I think I get where you’re going with this.”
“It’s terrible to lose someone you love,” he said gently, “even when you love them as a friend. Perhaps especially then, because a true friend is a rare and beautiful thing.”
“The alternative isn’t great either,” she pointed out.
“No, of course not. I only worry about him. He’s terribly tender, under it all.”
Harriet watched as Crowley crossed to the bin with a bag of stale crisps and threw it out. “I’m learning that.”
Aziraphale went quiet for a moment. “There’s also the matter of attachment,” he said. “I’d hate to see you close yourself off from the possibility of love in the future just because you have Crowley to see to your needs.”
Harriet turned that over in her mind. She could see it, falling into a comfortable rut after awhile, missing opportunities, passing up chances... “I don’t want that either,” she told him. What she wanted—what she really wanted—was a couple of friends she could lean on during the scariest phase of her life. She wanted people to talk to who understood, and if she got off with one of them regularly, then so much the better, but she mostly wanted company. “I just don’t want to do this alone,” she confessed in a whisper.
Crowley looked over at her sharply.
“Oh my dear,” breathed Aziraphale. “You won’t have to.”
“I want to write a book,” she said, feeling herself tearing up. “I want to live in London so Warlock can stay at his school. I want to be with people who think I’m interesting. I just—”
Crowley’s arms were suddenly around her, pulling her tight against her soft chest as she snatched the phone from Harriet’s ear. “Did you go and make her cry, angel? What’s that for, hm? I—oh.”
Harriet tucked her face into Crowley’s neck, touched by the protectiveness. She wanted Warlock to grow up with people like them, who talked about feelings and who would be there for him after she was gone.
“There there,” mumbled Crowley, rubbing her back briskly. “You’re alright, dear.”
“I will be,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “Thank you.”
“Right,” Crowley murmured, “okay. Thanks, angel.” She tucked the phone away. “He says it’s fine, pending some fine-tuning and keeping in mind what he said to you.”
Harriet nodded. “Okay.” She slipped her arms around Crowley’s waist, sighing. “Did you just clean out my pantry?”
“The quality of the staff is really slipping these days,” Crowley sniffed. “They knew better than that when I was around.”
Harriet snorted. “You know us sloppy Americans.”
“I know you’re not as sloppy as I’d like you,” Crowley murmured.
“You’re terrible,” Harriet murmured, smiling in spite of herself.
“It works.” Crowley’s hand dropped to give her ass a squeeze.
Harriet sighed, nuzzling Crowley’s neck. “Yeah, it does work. You’re lucky you’re hot or I’d never put up with those cheesy lines.”
“Oh, come now. You’ve been waiting your whole life to be seduced by cheesy lines.” Crowley bent to kiss her.
Harriet turned away. “You should have planned this for right after I brushed my teeth,” she said.
Crowley paused, then sighed and lifted her hand off Harriet’s ass to snap her fingers. A second later Harriet’s mouth felt minty and fresh.
“That’s seriously weird, you know that, right?” She wiggled her tongue around her mouth thoughtfully.
“You get used to it.” Crowley kissed her slowly.
Harriet curled her hands in Crowley’s collar, tugging her closer. “I’m not fucking you in my kitchen,” she whispered against her lips.
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Crowley grinned crookedly.
“Fucking on granite counters is adventurous? I thought you were supposed to be kinky.” Harriet grinned back.
“Oh hush.” Crowley nipped her ear. “Do tell if you’ve got someplace better in mind,” she whispered silkily.
Harriet bit her lip. “You wanna see what we did with your old room?” she asked.
“Naughty, Harriet.” Crowley looked delighted. “I hope you haven’t changed it.”
Harriet pulled her into an absolutely filthy kiss. “Not a goddamn thing,” she whispered. “You just need to put some sheets on the bed.”
“Done,” Crowley whispered against her mouth. “Lead on, dear.”
It was a struggle not to laugh as they crept up the stairs hand in hand; the nanny’s quarters were on the mostly empty third floor. The house had been built to support live-in staff, but Thaddeus and Harriet only had cleaners and the gardener, who now lived somewhere in Surrey and only came in on weekdays. The nanny had been the only one who lived with them.
Now the third floor—second, if she was going to be English about it—was shut up. It got cleaned along with the rest of the house, but the rooms sat empty except for storage. Crowley had an arm around Harriet’s waist and pressed her against the door to the nanny’s room, kissing her mouth and jaw with flattering hunger.
“Shit,” Harriet breathed, “I used to want to be you so badly. Or—Nanny, I guess.”
“Did you really want to be me?” Crowley’s nose brushed against her ear. “Or did you just want me?”
“Million dollar question,” Harriet whispered, reaching behind her for the doorknob. She got it open and they slipped inside. “I knew you were important, we’ll go with that.”
“That’ll do.” Crowley drew herself up, and Harriet could see the transformation into Nanny Ashtoreth. Her body language changed, her facial expression went gentle and stern, and her hands tightened on Harriet’s waist. “Now,” she said, stepping around Harriet neatly and sitting primly on the bed, “was there something you needed, dear?”
Harriet’s eyebrows shot up. “Way better than the kitchen,” she said approvingly.
“If you wanted the nanny,” Nanny purred—and shit, the Scottish accent was back—and crossed her legs, “then you’ll get the nanny.”
Harriet’s mouth was suddenly a bit dry. She stared at the long, pale stretch of thigh visible under the short silky nightgown. That contrast of white skin and black silk was doing things to her. “Yeah,” she croaked. “I want the nanny.”
“Close the door, dear,” Nanny murmured, and Harriet did, leaning back against it as she took in the demon in front of her. Her eyes gleamed in the light, and her big hand patted the bed beside her. “Come sit down. Tell me what you need.”
Harriet felt shaky like a newborn colt, but that was okay. She managed to cross the room and sink onto the bed, turning to Nanny with a desperation that scared her a little.
Nanny reached up to brush her hair back from her face. “I accept your new terms,” she whispered.
Harriet leaned into the hand. “Then I accept your offer,” she whispered back.
“Now to seal the deal, as it were.” And that was Crowley’s stupid grin peeking out, making a bubble of fondness explode in Harriet’s chest before it sank back under Nanny’s stern but gentle smile.
Harriet felt daring, so she slid her hand over Nanny’s larger one. “I know you’ll take care of me,” she said, biting her lip.
“Of course, dear.” Nanny turned her hand so it enveloped Harriet’s. “Just let me see to everything.”
“Okay.” Harriet raised her face for a kiss and was rewarded with a swift press of those hot lips. They quickly moved from her mouth to her jaw and down her neck, causing little sparks of pleasure that made her sigh.
“You’re so tense, dear,” Nanny murmured, nibbling at the tendon on her neck. “Lie back, now. Let’s help you relax.”
Harriet let Nanny ease her back onto the mattress with a hand on her chest. She gripped the plain quilt in her fists as Nanny leaned over her, stroking her thumb softly across Harriet’s collarbone. “Touch me?” she whispered.
“Anywhere you like, dear,” Nanny cooed at her, and Harriet squirmed.
“You know where,” she said, shifting her legs. The quilt was just cotton, but it felt decadent on her bare skin. She wished she’d worn something sexier than shorts and a t-shirt to bed, but she could have spoken up earlier if she’d wanted to change.
Nanny’s eyebrows shot up. “Naughty,” she said again. “Not quite the demure girl I remember now, are you?”
Harriet grinned up at her. “No,” she agreed breathlessly; Nanny’s free hand landed on her bare thigh and there was a thumb stroking just under the hem of her sleep shorts. “Don’t you like it when I’m forward?”
“You mean do I appreciate a brazen little hussy crawling into my bed and making demands?” Nanny slid her hand into Harriet’s shorts, making her squeal—it was cold. She smirked. “It has its appeals, yes.”
Harriet groaned; those fingers warmed up fast between her legs, and they’d started to pet her very softly through her underwear. “I’ll try not to be too demanding,” she breathed, shifting her hips to optimize the angle.
Nanny snorted. “I’m sure. Look at you, already so greedy. You really ought to be patient, dear. Don’t you trust Nanny to give you what you need?”
Harriet bit her lip, shivering with delight. “Yes, Nanny,” she whispered.
“Let’s get these off you, then.” Nanny tragically withdrew her fingers from Harriet’s underwear and patted her hip. “Up.”
Harriet arched helpfully so Nanny could tug her shorts and underwear down her legs and bit her lip when Nanny carefully set them aside. The fastidious care was somehow erotic; she didn’t pretend to understand it, but it was working for her.
“There.” Nanny gave her a critical once-over and nodded. “Much better. Now open those legs, dear, and let’s see what we’re dealing with.”
“Shit,” Harriet whispered shakily, and spread her legs.
Nanny craned her neck to take a look, and Harriet had to shut her eyes then. The feeling of being looked at, appraised and measured, and ultimately being found desirable hit her right in whatever powered her libido. It got her so fucking hot, and Nanny knew just how to do it to her. “Well well,” Nanny purred. “It seems you need a great deal, dear. I haven’t seen a cunt this wet since Boris Johnson got caught in the rain.”
That startled a laugh out of Harriet, and she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from breaking the mood.
When she looked, Nanny looked pleased with herself. She met Harriet’s eyes and smirked.
Harriet let herself giggle then. “Nice.”
“Thank you, dear,” said Nanny smugly.
“Presumably your treatment of the two is going to be considerably different,” said Harriet, still grinning.
“Oh, undoubtedly, dear. Unless you’d like to be repeatedly struck.”
“I’m not much for spanking,” said Harriet with a shrug.
“Pity. No matter, Aziraphale likes it well enough.”
“Variety.” Harriet nodded.
“And I can still take you over my knee for other nefarious purposes.” Nanny smiled slowly. “I’m told they make a variety of devices for the express purpose of sexually torturing pretty women.”
“That seems like something we should investigate,” said Harriet, swallowing.
“It does, doesn’t it? Next time.” Nanny pushed Harriet’s legs further apart. “For now you’ll have to satisfy yourself with me.”
“Not hard to do,” Harriet whispered.
“Thank you, dear,” said Nanny primly, and slid a finger into Harriet. “My, that went easy, didn’t it? I ought to give you another.”
“Yeah,” Harriet managed, arching as a second finger pushed in. “Feels good.”
“I’m sure. There we are.” Nanny put a hand on Harriet’s abdomen and crooked her fingers. “Oh, now that’s got you all tight. Too much tension, perhaps?”
“It’s nice,” Harriet told her. “Can I have another one?”
Nanny gave her a knowing look. “Greedy,” she said indulgently, and gave Harriet another finger.
Harriet whined, canting her hips into it. She was greedy; she’d felt greedy and needing and dissatisfied her whole life. But Nanny said it like it wasn’t a bad thing that Harriet wanted more. Like she wasn’t asking for too much, or even more than Nanny was prepared to give. What a fucking contrast to her husband, or the political wives. Or really, anyone in Harriet’s old life. They didn’t treat her like she deserved more, so she didn’t need them.
What she did need was for Nanny to finger her harder. Three of those long, graceful fingers made a nice stretch, but what Harriet wanted was a thorough fucking, and this wasn’t doing the trick. “Nanny,” she whined again, arching her hips. She’d speak up if she had to, but she wanted to see if Nanny would just know, somehow, the way she always seemed to.
Sure enough. “Turn over, dear,” Nanny told her, pulling her fingers out and making Harriet sigh at the loss. “Come now, up and over. And put that pillow under you, dear, just like that.”
Harriet shivered. With the fluffy pillow under her hips, she effectively had her ass propped in the air. Ripe for the taking, as it were. The thought made her moan softly and hide her face in the bedding.
“That’s better,” said Nanny approvingly, and she ran a hand down Harriet’s flank. Harriet moaned, and Nanny patted her ass patiently. “Be a dear and spread a bit wider.”
Harriet shuffled her legs further apart, and then moaned helplessly into the pillow when Nanny pushed all three fingers back into her at once.
“Now we have it,” Nanny murmured, and started to move them properly.
Harriet bit the pillow, arching her back to get as much inside her as she could. Those fingers were perfect, sending little jolts all through her gut as they fucked her. And Nanny was relentless; she got up on her knees, moving behind Harriet to improve the angle, and then she was working from the shoulder, slamming into her until Harriet was crying out into the bedding. She clenched her hands on the quilt, moving her hips and fucking back as best she could. It was too good; she was halfway to coming just on those fingers.
“You certainly make a pretty picture, dear,” Nanny cooed at her. “Your thighs are shaking.”
Harriet knew they were. And she could feel that they were slick too, where Nanny’s vigorous fingerfucking had smeared wetness halfway to her knees. She felt filthy. Absolutely debauched. She wanted more.
“Are you satisfied yet, girl?” Nanny asked sharply. “Or have I got to stuff another finger in you?”
Harriet moaned, lifting her ass up.
“Wanton,” Nanny tutted, and slipped her pinky in as well. Like this, the whole of her hand up to the thumb slid right in, and it—it ached, but in a way that made Harriet want to spread wider and beg for more. She remembered the doctors telling her in low voices about exercises she could do, back when she’d been pregnant, that would make labor easier. Remembered that she’d birthed a child once, and she could take more than this.
“More,” she slurred, turning her head and shivering at how rough her voice sounded. “Come on, more.”
Nanny paused. “You sure, dear?” she asked carefully. “Breathe, take a moment.”
“I’m sure,” Harriet rasped, canting her hips and shuffling her knees apart. “Put your whole fucking hand in me.”
“Good lord.” That was Crowley, getting flustered under the persona. It was cute. Harriet liked it.
She wiggled her ass insistently. “Miracle up some goddamn lube if I’m not wet enough.”
“Shit,” Crowley hissed. “Yeah, okay, just—here.” And then something cool dripped between her legs and made Harriet shriek into the pillows.
She kicked her foot uselessly against the mattress to signal that that was fucking cold, and it immediately warmed up pleasantly against her skin.
“There we are.” Nanny’s voice was back; apparently Crowley had pulled herself together again. Good. Harriet wasn’t sure she was capable of talking an anxious demon through fisting her. She slid a hand over Harriet’s hip, soothing her as she rocked her fingers in and out. “You barely need this at all, you know,” Nanny said in a low voice. “You want this so terribly much, dear, you open right up for me.”
Harriet whined, shoving her face in the pillow again as Nanny fingered her. The bulge of her knuckles was an insistent press against her, threatening pain but never delivering. Finally Harriet sighed, tension draining from her body, and let her in.
“Nicely done, girl,” cooed Nanny, patting her hip. “Oh, you’re marvelous.”
Harriet got her elbows under her so she could push back, but Nanny’s hand tightened on her hip.
“No,” she said softly. “Let me drive, dear.”
Harriet shivered and let herself go boneless against the bed. Nanny would take care of her.
“There we are.” That voice was so soothing, just like the big warm hand that caressed her hip as Nanny’s thumb brushed against her hole. Harriet sighed as Nanny slid it in, so gently she wanted to scream. Maybe this looked violent from the outside, but Harriet could feel how careful Nanny was being with her. It was lovely, being handled this delicately. The stretch was intense, but never actually painful. Nanny worked her fingers in and out, just a gentle rocking motion until Harriet got used to it. Time seemed to go strange and thick as Harriet’s focus narrowed down to where their bodies were joined. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so aware of herself. It was heady.
And then the ball of Nanny’s thumb popped inside.
Harriet made a noise she didn’t have a name for, a low animal sound that reverberated through her whole body. She couldn’t believe she was doing this. She couldn’t believe it actually felt good.
But oh, it did. Nanny’s hand slid in easier once the widest point was through, and it was the most intense feeling Harriet could remember. She felt like she would float right out of her skin if there wasn’t a hand on her holding her steady.
“Good God,” Nanny breathed, and Harriet knew she was staring. She shifted her weight on the bed, and her hand moved, just a little, which was enough to make Harriet whimper. “Fuck, that’s incredible.”
Harriet slumped, flexing her fingers in the quilt. She was perfectly happy to melt into a puddle right here, basking in all the endorphins jumping around her system. Every tiny movement of Nanny’s hand sent shock waves through her, pulling noises from deep in her chest. She almost didn’t care if she came or not, because she was riding the high regardless.
“Look at you,” Nanny whispered. “You really love this.”
Harriet made a guttural noise that she hoped passed for agreement and shifted her hips, only to whimper pitifully at the way Nanny’s hand felt. She couldn’t even clench, she was stretched so tight.
The other hand left her hip and slid down the back of her thigh. “You sound like you've seen paradise.”
Harriet nodded dreamily, groaning again when that hand moved inside her.
“Do—d’you want to come?” The hesitation in her voice made Harriet pay more attention.
“Hm?” She turned her head. It was hard to form words. “Yeah, okay.”
“Right.” And she sounded like Crowley again, all nervous and eager to please. “I can do that, yeah. Shit, I can’t believe that fits.”
Harriet groaned. “‘S too late to freak out, so stop it,” she muttered.
There was an irritated hiss behind her.
Harriet was prepared to forgive, though; she felt amazing, and the hand on her thigh carefully dipped between her legs, making her moan happily. Crowley’s fingers prodded at Harriet’s stretched-out hole, presumably just to marvel at it, and then they slipped higher, ghosting across her clit and sending electricity through her veins.
“God, you squeeze me hard when I do that,” Crowley whispered, and Harriet didn’t even think she could squeeze like this. Her body was amazing. “Fuck, okay. That’s it...” Her voice was slipping back into Nanny’s, and someday Harriet was going to tease her about needing to get into character to top, but that was for later.
For now, she shuddered at the clever fingers that brushed across her clit again. Everything already felt overwhelming, and this even moreso. Harriet shrieked into the pillow when Nanny started to rub her clit in quick little circles; the motion matched what she was doing with her hand inside Harriet, and that required some serious coordination.
“Oh, you love that, don’t you?” Nanny purred. “Look at you now, you greedy thing. Taking everything I can give you. Wet, wanton little whore, you’re lovely like this, you really are...”
Harriet was going to buy her something nice. Tickets to the opera, maybe, or a fruit basket. Treat her to lunch at the Savoy, because she was pretty sure she was going to die like this and it would be beautiful. She could feel herself cresting a wave, and the sensation built and spread out from her clit where Nanny was rubbing her so good, and it was almost gentle, the way it washed over her and didn’t stop.
Nanny didn’t stop either, and Harriet lost track of time as one orgasm flowed into another; her legs twitched and she was biting down hard on the pillow to muffle her cries. It was perfect, and she nearly sobbed with the loss when Nanny finally brought her down.
“Easy, dear,” she murmured. “We’re just going to—” and suddenly Harriet was empty, clenching around nothing as her confused muscles tried to adjust to the absence of that hand. “Not going to mess with that,” came an unnerved mutter.
Harriet shuddered. “Jesus Christ,” she slurred.
“He wasn’t terribly kinky, dear,” Nanny said mildly. “I offered.”
Harriet paused, then slowly turned her head to stare.
“What?” Nanny waved her miraculously clean hand. “Part of the whole temptation bit. You know, in the desert.”
“I just got fisted by someone who knew Jesus,” said Harriet flatly.
“Er,” said Crowley guiltily. “Yeah.”
Harriet let herself flop face-first into the bedding so she didn’t have to think too hard about that. She took a deep breath, and then another one, and then sat up. Muscles that were not used to being so well used protested, and she curled a hand over her abdomen. “So what now?” she asked softly.
Crowley looked at her—and it was Crowley now, all serious yellow eyes and all trace of Nanny’s self-assurance gone. “Depends,” she said. “I can miracle you away tonight, with Warlock. We can go shopping for a flat tomorrow that will conveniently find itself empty and waiting for you. You can be free.”
Harriet swallowed. “I think,” she said haltingly, “that I want to sit down and talk to my husband.”
Crowley nodded. “Of course, dear. It’s nearly morning.”
Harriet glanced at the single window in the room. Still dark, but that wasn’t surprising. “I believe you.”
Crowley gave her a faint smile. “You’re sure?”
“I think I have to,” said Harriet slowly. After all, they had shared over fifteen years together. The fact that most of them had been unhappy was beside the point. Thaddeus wasn’t abusive; there was no reason to sneak out in the middle of the night with the kid. She could run like a coward, or she could leave in a way that would make her feel okay with herself.
She knew from her self-help books what she needed to do.
Crowley reached out and smoothed her hair behind her ear; immediately Harriet felt her hair and her thighs miraculously clean themselves up. “There’s a girl,” she said softly. “I always knew you had it in you.”
Harriet forced a smile. It wasn’t a conversation she was looking forward to, but she slipped into Crowley’s arms and let herself be held as the sun rose. Crowley rocked her softly, resting her cheek on Harriet’s head and stroking one of those big hands up and down her back. When dawn had crept across the room far enough to touch the edge of the bed, she sighed.
“Time for me to go, dear,” she murmured, and Harriet nodded.
“Right,” she said with a deep breath. “Yeah.” It was an effort to let go, but Harriet did it, and forced another smile. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Of course, dear,” Crowley whispered, chucking her gently under the chin. “I’ll find you.”
Harriet nodded, and slowly got to her feet. She didn’t look back as she left the little room on the third floor and padded down the stairs past the bedrooms and to the kitchen. Crowley could make her own way—had been doing it longer than Harriet had been alive, so Harriet felt free to worry about her own problems. Besides, she’d just talked to Aziraphale and heard the love in his voice. Crowley was going to be fine.
And so was Harriet, once she cleared this final hurdle.
She made coffee. Two cups, just the way they both liked it, and she carried them upstairs. Thaddeus was still asleep. He didn’t have any meetings today until the afternoon, so he’d allow himself to sleep until seven and then go straight to the office. Warlock had a lunch packed and his homework all done the night before, and a driver ready to take him to school. He didn’t need her this morning.
Harriet set the coffee down on Thaddeus’s nightstand and crossed over to her side of the bed with her own cup. It didn’t take long for the smell of fresh coffee with cream to pull him into consciousness. She took a sip and watched him as he sniffed and opened his eyes.
“Did you make me coffee?” he asked, sitting up and peering at her as though he hadn’t seen her clearly before.
Harriet nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“Thanks, honey.” And there was that little boy smile that she’d loved once. He sat up and gingerly took the cup in his hands—he always had warm hands. Harriet had adored his hands once upon a time. “What’s the occasion?”
Shit. Harriet wished he hadn’t given her such a perfect opening. She took a deep breath. “I think we need to talk.”
The smile dropped off his face. “Is this about the Pestana?” he asked.
So he had seen the room charge. Harriet bit her lip. “You knew.”
“Yeah.” Thaddeus watched her over the lip of his cup. “I wasn’t sure you’d say anything.”
Harriet sighed. “It’s not exactly about the Pestana,” she said, feeling her courage waver. “Although If we’re going to talk about that we can just as easily discuss Tiffany’s lipstick on your collar.”
He winced. “Honey—”
“I don’t think there’s much point in discussing it though,” said Harriet. “Do you? We’re both sleeping with other people, Tad.”
Thaddeus studied her. “You look different,” he said abruptly. “You look better.”
“Self-esteem,” she said with a shrug, and then stopped herself. It was too easy to get defensive when she talked to him. That wasn’t what she wanted. “I’m not angry,” she told him, “about Tiffany. That’s—that’s whatever. This is bigger than that.”
He frowned. “Honey, it’s early. What exactly are you trying to say?”
“I want a divorce.” Harriet let it hang there, in the ringing silence. She didn’t try to soften the blow.
Thaddeus stared at her. “You what?”
“I want a divorce,” she repeated evenly. “I’m tired, Tad. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Divorce?” he repeated stupidly. “I don’t—how can you even say that? I know we’re going through a rough patch—”
“Honey, we’ve been going through a rough patch for thirteen years,” Harriet pointed out as gently as possible. “Are you really willing to keep it up for another thirteen?”
He blinked rapidly. “Okay, I know I haven’t been home much,” he began.
“You left me alone to give birth to our son,” she said, and took a fortifying sip of coffee. “You’ve made it abundantly clear that your career matters more than me or Warlock. And this administration is despicable, Tad. I can’t believe you keep bending over for them.”
“But you’re happy enough to spend my money,” he said, anger surfacing.
Harriet held up her hand. “I gave up my career for you,” she pointed out. “Remember that? But I’m not going to ask you for alimony. I can make my own way, Tad. All I want is to make sure Warlock has the best. We can agree on that, can’t we?”
He eyed her distrustfully. “You haven’t worked since before Warlock was born and you don’t want alimony?” he asked.
She closed her eyes and fought the urge to smash her coffee cup in his face. “I’m perfectly happy to get it all in writing,” she said evenly. “We can work out the details of who pays for what. I just want to make sure Warlock can stay in his school.”
“This is—” Thaddeus shook his head. “Harriet, where will you go? What are you gonna do? Do you even have a plan?”
“I have part of one,” she told him. “I can figure out the rest as I go.”
“Okay.” He rubbed his eyes. “Okay, you have a plan. How long have you been thinking about this?”
“You mean before or after I committed to leaving?” asked Harriet. “Because I’ve toyed with the idea for years, but this time?” She considered. “Right around the time you ignored me at the Christmas party.”
“You’re leaving because of the Christmas party?” he demanded.
“I’m leaving because every party is just like the Christmas party,” she snapped. “You want a perfect family to flash in front of your colleagues like an accessory, but we aren’t people to you, Tad. And I’m not interested in being your arm candy. You can find younger and cheaper if that’s all you need in a woman.”
“I need you,” he insisted.
Harriet shook her head. “You don’t even know me anymore,” she told him quietly. “How do I spend my time? What committees am I on? Who did I have lunch with last week?”
“You—” He opened his mouth and froze, an anguished expression passing over his face.
Harriet smiled sadly. “Yeah,” she said. “You don’t have any idea.”
He looked away. “What are you gonna tell Warlock?”
“I’ll tell him the truth, that we’ll be happier apart.” Harriet took a fortifying sip of coffee. “He can choose where he wants to live, with no pressure from us.”
“You’ll be able to support him on your own?” Thaddeus asked sourly.
“I have faith things will work out,” she replied. “I’m going to start looking for a flat here in London. Warlock won’t be far, if you want to see him.”
“You’re so sure he’s going to live with you.” Thaddeus stared at her, totally bemused.
“Well, which one of us helped him with his book report this quarter?” Harriet asked. “Don’t think of it as losing us, Tad, because you never really had us to begin with. We’ll just be a little further away.” Which would come in handy when things crashed and burned with the State Department.
“We can’t just get divorced, honey!” he said. “People will talk.”
“I don’t care.” Harriet looked at him. “Blame everything on me if you want. I don’t plan to see any of the expat crowd again, so feel free to say whatever you want to save face.”
“Jesus,” he whispered, looking away.
Harriet studied his profile. He was still soft with sleep and his hair was sticking up in all directions. She felt nothing when she looked at him.
“Okay, okay.” He took a deep breath. “What about this? We can take a long weekend. Go to Brighton or something, just the two of us. You’re absolutely right, I’ve been a terrible husband, but we can—”
“There’s no trip that could fix this, honey,” Harriet said softly. “This marriage is dead. We’re both having affairs, we never have sex anymore, and I can’t actually remember the last time we had fun together. Can you?” She raised her eyebrows.
His mouth was hanging open. “There was the—” He stopped, and something stole across his face in the silence.
“See?” she said quietly.
“No,” he said blankly. “It’s not that bad, Harriet.”
“Denial isn’t working for me anymore, Tad. And I have to do what works for me now.” Harriet gripped her cup tightly.
“So what about me?” he demanded. “You’re just gonna walk out and take my son?”
“The son you couldn’t be bothered to spend time with?” asked Harriet mildly. “That son? Yeah, I think so, although God knows if you want to build a better relationship with him I will be completely supportive.”
“Are you really sure you can handle him by yourself, hon?” Thaddeus probably wasn’t saying it just to be cruel. He was never deliberately cruel. Harriet was giving him the benefit of the doubt. “I mean, you’ve had nannies since he was a baby.”
She certainly did have a nanny. Harriet took a sip of coffee to fight the hysterical urge to giggle. “I’ve been doing some work on myself lately,” she said once she lowered the cup. “I’m devoting myself to being a mother. It’s easier if I’m not pretending to be a wife.”
That was deliberately cruel, and she felt bad when she saw him flinch. But she didn’t take it back.
“So that’s it,” he said softly. “Seventeen years of marriage and then you wake me up with a cup of coffee and tell me you’re leaving.”
“Are you even in love with me anymore?” Harriet asked. “Or is this your pride that’s hurting? Because that’ll pass, trust me. If I can swallow the entire Oval Office watching me in childbirth because you couldn’t be bothered to be with me, then you can get over them knowing I left you.”
“Again with the labor thing?” he snapped. “That was years ago! I told you already, I was sorry I couldn’t be there, but you did great!”
Harriet wanted to tell him. Wanted to scream and fling her coffee in his face and tell him how he abandoned her to face Hell alone, but there was no way to make him understand. There was too big a gulf between them, too many years of silences and hurts and petty grievances to cross anymore. She shook her head. “I never forgave you,” she finally said. “I tried, but I never could. Not for that. Not for leaving me alone when I needed you most.”
He didn’t understand. It was clear from the look on his face, and Harriet didn’t have the energy to explain.
“Look,” she said, “at the end of the day we will be happier apart. We already live mostly separate lives anyway. You can start dating that girl openly now that I’m moving out. I can make my own way. And you can be a father on your own terms, for as long as Warlock is willing to put up with it. At least you won’t have to worry about him staying in his room when the Russians or the Tories come to dinner.”
“And Tad?” She cut him off and looked him in the eye. “Consider that this administration won't be here forever. There’s an old metaphor about rats and sinking ships.” She got to her feet. “I’ll shower in the guest room.”
“Harriet.” The pleading note in his voice made her turn. Thaddeus was sitting on the bed with his empty cup dangling from his hands.
She raised her eyebrows. “What is it?” It wouldn’t be like him, to make a play for her now. He’d never fought to keep her before.
Sure enough, he dropped his eyes and stared at the floor. And Harriet nodded. He wouldn’t put up a fight now either.
She sobbed in the shower, sinking to the floor and thinking of the woman she’d been when she married him. If she could, she’d reach back through time and hug that girl, try to shore her up against all the pain and disappointment that she’d have to face. She ached with the weight of years wasted, and the nearly unbearable lightness she felt now that she’d ended it.
Thaddeus was gone when she came out, so she dressed and went downstairs with the notion of having another cup of coffee. Before she could reach the kitchen, the housekeeper stopped her in the hall.
“Mrs. Dowling,” she said cautiously, “the movers are here.”
Harriet stared at her. “Movers,” she repeated.
“Yes, ma’am.” The housekeeper eyed her with cool approval. “They arrived just after Mr. Dowling left.”
“Did they now?” Harriet kept her expression carefully controlled, although her heart leapt. “That’s incredibly convenient. Alright, let them in.” She went to pour herself that second cup of coffee and pulled up real estate listings in London on her phone. Odds were good that she’d find a miraculously good deal.
An hour later, several glassy-eyed men were packing up Harriet’s half of the master bedroom and she had appointments to see four different London homes in the afternoon. It was Friday; she’d be back before Warlock got home from school.
Things were, in fact, falling into place.
“This came for you in the post,” said the housekeeper, whose admiration had made Harriet pour her a cup of coffee earlier and tempt her into drinking it with her at the island. She handed over a small, beautifully handwritten card on expensive, heavy stock.
Harriet took it, amused, and read the elegant invitation to afternoon tea. “A. Z. Fell’s,” she noted, lips quirking. “Ever been?”
The housekeeper—her name was Moira, Harriet had just learned—blinked. “The bookshop? I’ve never been inside, no, but it’s been a fixture in Soho for ages. Even before the area cleaned up.”
Harriet looked at the card again, imagining Aziraphale in the sleaziest days of the 1970s, floating around like the little ray of light he was and gracing everyone he met with those bright smiles. It was a charming thought. “I guess I’d better call to confirm,” she said.
“Very good.” Moira nodded.
Harriet pulled out her phone and dialed the number on the card. Somehow she wasn’t surprised that it was Aziraphale who offered his contact information first, although she had to say she was touched.
After three rings, a coolly formal voice answered the phone. “A. Z. Fell. May I help you?”
“It’s Harriet,” she said. “I got your invitation.”
“Harriet!” Aziraphale’s voice went from winter to summer in an instant. “I do hope you’re alright.”
She smiled wanly. “I’m getting there.”
“I had thought,” he said cautiously, “that you might appreciate the company.”
“Dear God, absolutely.” Harriet barked a laugh. “I’ve got an appointment to see a few houses over on that side of the city this afternoon, so honestly, tea at your place would be perfect.”
“Lovely.” She could year his smile over the phone. “Crowley also wondered if Warlock would be able to join us. After school, that is.”
Harriet hesitated. “I think I need to talk to Warlock about the present situation and see how he feels,” she said. “The whole trying to be a better mother thing means a lot more listening. But you know he loves his nanny, so don’t take it personally.”
“Of course not.” Aziraphale’s voice softened. “I’ll pass it along.”
“Thanks. And I’ll see you once I’ve looked at some houses.”
After the call was over, she went upstairs to brush her teeth and put on some makeup. She called a divorce lawyer and set up an appointment for tomorrow morning. Miraculously, there was an opening at a convenient time. She stepped around the movers, who were still packing up her things with vaguely puzzled expressions, and grabbed her purse. There was no way she could stay here any longer. If she didn’t keep moving, she’d lose momentum and the whole fragile situation would fall apart.
Harriet took a car into central London, interested in looking over some of the districts where she’d spotted available listings. It was pathetic, how little she knew about this city having lived here so long. Sure, it was home, but Harriet had allowed her world to shrink over the years, and she’d left so many areas unexplored.
The first flat she had an appointment to see was an ultra-modern high rise in Mayfair. The website had listed views of the river and sleek concrete interiors, with three bedrooms and two baths. It was close to the tube station and included a coveted parking spot. In short, it was ideal.
Harriet looked up at the building consideringly. Little more modern than she was used to, but she liked it. There was an hour to kill before her appointment, so she wandered the neighborhood, noting restaurants and shops that caught her eye. She found herself charmed, and more than a little bemused that this property was within her budget. Mayfair was notoriously expensive.
The agent was a mousy looking man with the befuddled look on his face that Harriet was beginning to recognize as a symptom of demonic intervention. She smiled at him anyway and followed him to the lifts, which were all gleaming stainless steel and smoky glass. The man rattled off some facts about the building as they headed up, like the fact that it had a pool and a sauna and a fitness center. Harriet was impressed.
When the lift opened, she saw that this was the top floor, and there were only two units here. She frowned. “I thought we were seeing 1602,” she said.
“Oh no,” he told her. “I’ve been—” He broke off, looking terribly confused.
A door opened at the end of the hall. “No no, Reg, I’m looking at 1602. This woman here is buying this one.”
“Crowley.” Harriet couldn’t stop the grin that spread over her face. He was lounging in the doorway with his shirt unbuttoned way too far, in pants he probably had to lie down to put on, and snakeskin shoes. He looked so tacky.
She wanted to hug him.
“Hey Harriet, see you found the place alright. Good. Reg, you can pop along now, there’s a chap. Take yourself to a late lunch.” Crowley sauntered out and patted Reg on the shoulder as he backed into the lift helplessly.
“But my commission,” he said.
“No worries, mate.” Crowley grinned as the lift doors closed on his face. Then he clapped his hands and turned back to Harriet. “Now. I suppose you want to see the place.”
“This is your flat.”
“Course it is. I haven’t any others to give you.” He jerked his chin and sauntered past her to the door. “Coming?”
Smooth. Harriet followed, amused, and stepped into the most austere dwelling she’d ever seen. “Wow. Marie Kondo would be proud of you.”
“Shut up,” he muttered, taking her arm and leading her to the kitchen. It was beautiful and spacious, with windows overlooking the city. “Here. This is enough, right? I’ve got a second bedroom and an office if you need the space. If you don’t like it we can work something out.”
Harriet glanced at him. “So you’re moving in with Aziraphale?”
He scratched his head, making some complicated faces. “Yeah.”
She eyed him. “You’re nervous,” she said gently.
He let out a hysterical little laugh. “Nervous, she says. I shouldn’t be, should I? We’ve known each other for six thousand years.” He looked away.
“Have you ever shared a space before?” Harriet crossed her arms. “Seems to me it’s pretty normal to be nervous when you first move in together.”
Crowley looked at her then, and his face was a child’s face, desperate for reassurance. “Yeah?” he asked, trying and failing for nonchalant.
She smiled softly. “Yeah. Now show me the bedrooms.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Really, Harriet?”
Harriet rolled her eyes. “Not like that, you perv. Come on, I want to see the rest of this place.”
So he took her around, showing her the cavernous master bedroom with its decadent attached bathroom and the office, where Harriet remarked on the throne (“It’s an antique,” he told her snottily) and admired his da Vinci sketch.
“It’s better than the painting,” he said, standing behind her. “He thought so too. Said he’d got her smile right in the drafts.”
Harriet was delighted. “Are you sure you want to part with this?” she asked.
“Oh, the sketch is coming with me. I don’t like you that m—”
“I meant the flat, idiot,” she said.
“Oh.” He blinked his yellow snake eyes at her. “I mean, there’s always 1602.”
“What’s the deal with that, anyway? Did you just arrange for another flat to be empty?” asked Harriet, leaning against his ridiculously huge desk.
“Owner got a fantastic job offer in Madrid,” said Crowley casually, inspecting his nails. “Funny how you’re willing to sell fast when you have to move for work.”
“Isn’t it just?” Harriet watched him. It was still kind of a mindfuck that he could just be a woman whenever he wanted, but she liked to think she was rolling with it. It wasn’t that he was a manly man, either; she was pretty sure those were women’s jeans. He just carried himself so differently depending on what gender he was wearing. “So you’re going to what, keep that one as a man cave or something?”
“Or something,” he murmured without looking at her. “The books and the plants need different humidity.”
“Plants?” Harriet blinked. “You have plants?”
“Yeah.” He shrugged, which made her suspect the plants meant a lot more than he wanted to let on.
“Can I see them?” she asked carefully. She didn’t want to overstep.
But he brightened. “Sure, alright.” He swaggered down a hallway Harriet hadn’t seen yet, and when she followed him she stepped into the most gorgeous greenhouse she’d ever seen.
“Now you know what’s expected of you,” Crowley growled, and for a second Harriet was confused. Then she noticed he was glaring viciously at an umbrella plant and realized the threat wasn’t directed toward her at all.
“Are you verbally abusing your houseplants?” she asked anyway, because some things were too ridiculous to be believed without verbal confirmation.
He paused. “How else are you supposed to keep them in line?”
“Have you tried anything else?” Harriet stepped around him to admire a deep red orchid. “I know you were nicer to my son.”
“A kid’s different from a plant,” he said defensively.
She reached out to touch the petals, and she might have imagined it, but she thought the leaves trembled. “Everything needs to feel supported,” she reminded Crowley.
She could feel him watching her; his gaze had a weight to it. “Aziraphale doesn’t know how I talk to them,” he finally confessed, very softly.
“You don’t think he’d approve.” She didn’t bother making it a question.
Crowley huffed. “He’s not like us, you know. There’s nothing petty or cruel about him.”
Harriet couldn’t imagine being that good. She shook her head. “Maybe you should start thinking of them as kids,” she suggested. “See how that works.”
He didn’t answer, and she didn’t press it. What he did say was, “I popped over to Tadfield.”
Harriet turned sharply. “What did you find?”
He shrugged, reaching over to inspect a nearby leaf. “Had to bully the only one of those nuns still hanging around the area. She told me they did adopt the third baby out. Local couple who were desperate to have a child and willing not to ask nuns too many questions. They still live in the area.”
Harriet was still for a moment, thinking that over. “Did you find anything else?” she finally asked.
Crowley scratched his head. “He, er, breeds fish.”
“Yeah. Got his name in the local paper and everything. He raises tropical fish and wins prizes for them.”
Harriet blinked several times. “You’re sure it’s him?”
“He’s got your mouth,” Crowley told her with a crooked smile.
It felt like all the air left the room. “So you saw him.”
“Just for a minute. He was on his way to school with his friends. Seemed cheerful enough.”
Harriet had to take several deep breaths to hold in whatever emotion this was. She couldn’t even name it; there was heartbreak and wonder and a fierce kind of joy all bundled together when she thought about that boy. She loved him desperately, even though she didn’t know his name. He was happy. He won prizes for his fish. He had her mouth. God, she hoped life was good to him.
Crowley was watching her hesitantly, reminding her of a puppy who brought back the ball and wasn’t sure if it had earned a treat.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I—thank you.”
He nodded sharply and looked away.
Harriet took the opportunity to pull herself together. One crying jag per day was enough, she decided, and looked up to study the ceiling. Concrete. Very modern.
“Okay,” she said after a minute. “Okay.”
Crowley turned back to her.
“I really appreciate—God, everything.” Harriet swallowed. “I just want you to know that. Thank you.”
“You’ve thanked me enough,” he told her. “As far as I’m concerned I’m just paying you back.”
“But you’re not,” she said. “You were a lifeline. I—there’s no way I could have left if not for you.”
He gave her a soft smile. “I just threw you a rope, girl. You pulled yourself up.”
She went to him then, overcome with fondness, and wrapped her arms around his skinny waist. “You’re a good friend,” she murmured.
He patted her back far too awkwardly considering where he’d had his hand just this morning. “Oh, shut up.”
Harriet shoved her face in his neck, curious in spite of herself whether he smelled the same regardless of gender. He did; she sighed at the faint burnt scent of his skin. “I can still feel it whenever I move,” she said softly.
Crowley stilled. “Yeah?” he asked cautiously.
Harriet nodded. “Yeah. It’s good.”
His hand rested lightly at the small of her back. “I don’t do that much,” he said haltingly. “Be a woman, that is. Sometimes it’s fun, but often enough it’s a bother. Too many extra steps you’re expected to take before you so much as walk out the door.”
“Tell me about it,” muttered Harriet, who had put on mascara to look at houses.
“Sort of nice,” he mumbled, “having someone appreciate it so much.”
Harriet smiled against his neck. “I really do.”
He grumbled, but Harriet got the impression that deflection was Crowley’s coping strategy of choice. Besides, he held her like she was fragile and he didn’t want to break her, and that spoke for itself.
“You should try being nice to your plants,” she said after a few minutes of comfortable silence. “You might find that they want to make you happy.”
Crowley swallowed. “Yeah, maybe,” he allowed.
After that there was nothing to do but visit Aziraphale. They drove to his bookshop in Crowley’s car, an unfairly sexy Bentley that had both a seatbelt and a CD player (Harriet tried to put on what looked like the Velvet Underground but turned out to be Queen, prompting a loud groan from Crowley), and while Crowley drove like a madman, Harriet felt pretty certain he wasn’t actually going to crash into anything. Stuff had a way of working out for Crowley, after all.
Aziraphale’s bookshop was exactly what Harriet had imagined; very English, very cozy, and it looked as though its heyday had been somewhere around 1873. She admired the books crammed onto the warm wood shelves and the overstuffed brocade chairs and the way the light seemed just a bit warmer than it should have by rights.
“Unbelievable,” she muttered as Aziraphale ushered them toward a frankly decadent tea spread, “I’ve been past this place a dozen times and I never came in.”
“Well, I must say I’m glad of that,” sniffed Aziraphale. “I rather detest customers.”
“He hasn’t sold a book in years,” Crowley told her happily. The way he looked at Aziraphale was so soppy and fond that Harriet had to hide her smile behind her teacup.
“I should think not,” said Aziraphale loftily. “Really, my dear.” But he favored Crowley with a brilliant smile.
Harriet sat back, content to watch them bicker and nibble a shortbread between sips of tea. In an hour, she’d pick Warlock up from school and hug him tight and tell him that his parents were getting divorced. She’d direct the movers to bring their things to Crowley’s old flat. Tomorrow, she’d meet with her lawyer and get papers drawn up.
And after that? Well, the after part still seemed a long way away. Tricky to think that far ahead; seemed like bad luck to her. But Harriet thought Crowley’s office, with its spectacular views of the city, might make a nice place to start an outline for her book. Maybe Warlock needed a new school after all; a fresh start for both of them. She could ask him once they got settled in.
It didn’t feel real yet. It probably wouldn’t for some time. Then again, she was having tea with an angel and a demon, so reality was something Harriet Dowling was prepared to accept as fluid. The thought appealed to her. It spoke to possibilities. As Crowley leaned over to brush crumbs off Aziraphale’s lapel, she thought she might not be the only one reveling in newfound freedom.
They’d all get to revel together, thanks to Crowley. It had been way too long since she’d had friends around to just sit with and enjoy the little things. There would be more as time went on, Harriet knew. She needed human company, and they didn’t need a third wheel constantly hanging around, but in the moment this seemed like the perfect place to be.
“—don’t understand why you don’t simply miracle them away, angel—”
“Oh, but you’re so very sweet about it, my dear, thank you—”
The tea was really very good. Harriet took another sip and smiled.