EXCERPT FROM CHAPTERS 2-3
It could have been an ordinary cocktail party, almost a celebration. I hoped that meant no smiting tonight since that would have really put a damper on the atmosphere. No one had noticed my arrival except for Jerome.
“Ten minutes late,” he growled.
“Hey, it’s a fashionable—”
My words were cut off as a tall, Amazonian blonde nearly barreled into me.
“Oh! You must be Georgina! I’ve been dying to meet you.”
I raised my eyes past spandex-clad double-D breasts and up into big blue eyes with impossibly long lashes. A huge set of beauty pageant teeth smiled down at me.
My moments of speechlessness were few, but they did happen. This walking Barbie doll was a succubus. A really new one. So shiny and new, in fact, it was a wonder she didn’t squeak. I recognized her age both from her signature and her appearance. No succubus with any sense would have shape-shifted into that. She was trying too hard, haphazardly piling together an assortment of pseudo male fantasy body parts. It left her with a Frankensteinian creation that was both jaw dropping and probably anatomically impossible.
Unaware of my astonishment and disdain, she took my hand and nearly broke it in a mammoth handshake.
“I can’t wait to work with you,” she continued. “I am so ready to make men everywhere suffer.”
I finally found my voice. “Who…who are you?”
“She’s your new best friend,” a voice nearby said. “My, my look at you. Tawny’s going to have a tough standard to keep up with.”
A man elbowed his way toward us, and whatever curiosity I’d felt in the other succubus’ presence disappeared like ashes in the wind. I forgot she was even there. My stomach twisted into knots as I ID’d the mystery signature. Cold sweat broke out along the back of my neck and seeped into the delicate fabric of the dress.
The guy approaching was about as tall as me—which wasn’t tall—and had a dark, olive-toned complexion. There was more pomade on his head than black hair. His suit was nice—definitely not off the rack. A thin-lipped smile spread over his face at my dumbstruck discomfiture.
“Little Letha, all grown up and out to play with the adults, eh?” He spoke low, voice pitched for my ears alone.
Now, in the grand scheme of things, immortals like me had little to fear in this world. There were, however, three people I feared immensely. One of them was Lilith the Succubus Queen, a being of such formidable power and beauty that I would have sold my soul—again—for one kiss. Someone else who scared me was a nephilim named Roman. He was Jerome’s half-human son and had good reason to want to hunt me down and destroy me some day. The third person who filled me with fear was this man standing before me.
His name was Niphon, and he was an imp, just like my friend Hugh. And, like all imps, Niphon really only had two jobs. One was to run administrative errands for demons. The other, his primary one, was to make contracts with mortals, brokering and buying souls for hell.
And he was the imp who had bought mine.
For a few seconds, I was no longer at the party. My mind’s eye flashed back to where I stood on a cliff outside the town I’d grown up in, barely old enough to be called an adult by today’s standards. And Niphon was there, smiling at me, promising me he had all the answers and could make my problems disappear…
I shook my head, driving off the memories and returning to the party at hand.
His smile grew, an evil smile that promised eviler things. I could have been facing Eden’s serpent himself.
“I knew you had it in you,” he continued, stepping toward me. His voice stayed soft. “I knew it the minute I saw you. I can’t wait to find out firsthand just how…experienced you’ve become.”
My defenses snapped into place, and I stepped back. “Touch me, and I’ll break your neck.”
“Such ingratitude, considering I made you what you are.”
“Stay away from me.”
He started to move forward again, and my heart leapt to a pace that would have killed most humans. Suddenly, Jerome’s voice fell over us, and I realized the room had become silent. “Leave her alone, Niphon. She said no.”
The imp paused and made a pleading face. “Aw, come on, Jerome. What kind of demon doesn’t share his goods?”
“You aren’t here to sleep with my succubus. If you can’t do your job, I can replace you.”
Jerome’s voice held a warning note that even an asshole like Niphon couldn’t ignore. Maybe someone would be consigned to hell tonight after all. Disappointingly, the imp inclined his head in obeisance and backed off. The look he gave me warned we would have a later conversation.
I walked over to Jerome. “Maybe you should have given me a heads up earlier.”
“And ruin things for you lovebirds? Hardly something a die-hard romantic like me could do. Besides, I told you to come early.”
Hugh snapped his cell phone shut and wandered over to join us. He kissed my cheek. “Hey, sweetie. Big things going on here.”
My already enormous sense of dread grew by leaps and bounds. “Such as?”
“Re-org. Seattle’s lines have been redrawn. We’re getting another succubus. Or, well, we’ve got one.”
My jaw dropped, and I replayed Niphon’s earlier words. “You are so joking.”
“Afraid not. This is Tawny.”
Robo-Blonde pranced over on her stiletto heels and tried to shake my hand again. I kept it out of reach, fearing for my bones. I forced a smile. “Hi, Tawny.” I turned back to Jerome and jerked my head at Niphon. “Why is he here then?”
“I acquired her,” the imp explained. ‘Acquired’ was a nice way of saying he’d bought her soul for hell, just as he’d purchased mine. “It’s my job to stay and watch her until she’s settled in and taken her first victim.”
“No one ever did that for me,” I recalled. “You sort of threw me to the wolves.” I’d had to be some innkeeper’s sex toy in Constantinople for a few years until I’d learned the succubus ropes.
Niphon shrugged. “HR’s new policy. Just think of all the time it’ll give us to catch up.”
Giving Tawny a sidelong glance, I hoped her adamant desire to destroy men everywhere meant she’d be a quick study. Eyeing her leopard skin skirt, I had my doubts.
“Well. Fantastic. Now that I’m up to speed, I guess there’s no need to stay--”
Hugh shook his head, suddenly becoming my-friend-the-imp as opposed to the all-business imp. I could tell from his expression that I wouldn’t like what he had to say next. “There’s something else you need to know. For the next year or so, you have to be her…uh, mentor.”
“Mentor,” I repeated flatly.
He nodded, looking sympathetic. Jerome watched our exchange with amusement.
“What, um, does that mean for me exactly?”
Hugh set his briefcase on a coffee table and pulled out what looked like the kind of copied and bound manual Kinko’s would run off. He tossed it to me. I caught it and nearly keeled over. The thing had about 800 pages.
Mentor’s Official and Complete Procedural Handbook on Initial Succubus Intake and Probationary Period (Abridged).
“Abridged?” I spun toward Jerome. “Tell me you’re getting back at me for the time I accused you of wearing Old Spice.”
“That one’s still coming,” said the demon. “This one’s for real.”
“I can’t do this, Jerome. I don’t have the time! Do you know how much stuff I’ve got going on? I’m still training the new assistant manager at work—”
He stood up with speed a vampire might have admired. He leaned toward me, the amusement gone from his face.
“Oh gee, Georgie. How inconsiderate of me to take you away from your human boyfriend and your crucial-to-the-world bookstore job and all the other goddamned absurdity in your life! Let me just go ahead and tell my superiors that you’ve got more important things to do than answer to the powers who control your immortal soul and could wipe out your existence in the blink of an eye.”
Heat flooded my cheeks. I didn’t really appreciate being verbally bitch slapped in front of Niphon and Seattle’s entire dream team of evil. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just—”
“It’s not up for debate any longer.” His words crawled over my skin.
I swallowed. “Yes, Jerome.” Even I knew when to back down.
Silence fell. A smirk played over Niphon’s face. “A human boyfriend. How terribly quaint. I can’t wait to hear all about it.”
“I think it’s cute,” said Tawny. She smiled happily. “I hope you’re making him suffer.”