Luck of the Devil
Speak of the Devil - Book One, by Patricia Eimer
Being the youngest daughter of the Devil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The days of teenage rebellion and vows of chastity made just to tick off her father are over, and now all Faith Bettincourt wants is a nice, quiet life. Unfortunately, thanks to the unexpected arrival of her demonically-downsized sister, a ditzy succubus roommate, and dear old Dad himself, Faith’s plans for a relaxing vacation spent watching reruns go up in flames.
Now it’s all Faith can do to keep the family reunion from Hell (literally) under wraps, and the angelically-inclined hottie across the hall from realizing there’s something weird about his neighbor. And, thankfully, it’s working. Until an angelic stalker shows up in a bid to steal her powers and take over the world.
Forget watching reruns. With the way things are going, Faith will need the luck of the Devil just to survive until Monday.
Praise for Luck of the Devil:
★★★★ stars. “This book should come with a warning: ‘There’s enough laugh-out-loud high jinks to cause readers to crack a few ribs.’ Eimer’s comical tone flows effortlessly, with saucy flair and a warm charming touch.”
- Diane Morasco, RT Book Reviews
“Ms. Eimer’s twist on God and the Devil is genius. . . . Luck of the Devil is pure entertainment with satirical religious undertones that yield uncontrollable, giggles-worthy hilarity that simply adds to the fun.”
~ Renee C. Fountain, New York Journal of Books
“Patricia Eimer puts a fun, new spin on what it means to be the devil’s daughter!”
~ Linda Wisdom, National Bestselling Author, Demons Are A Girl’s Best Friend
© 2011 Patricia Eimer
“You just couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Lisa and I stared in revulsion at the freshly dead body of my former boss lying on the carpet in his office, wearing nothing but plaid boxer shorts, a striped tie, and his white lab coat.
“Faith, I’m sorry. I was hungry.” She winced and shuffled her feet like a guilty child caught sneaking into the cookie jar. She waved her hand at me, like I should know how it is.
I did. That didn’t make the consequences any nicer if we were caught. In a hospital. With the dead body of the head of pediatric surgery.
“You were hungry?” I pushed a lock of curly blonde hair behind my left ear.
“I see a man, I eat his soul. That’s what I do. It’s not like I enjoyed it or anything. I mean, have you seen Harold?”
“That changes everything, obviously. People will understand. Not. What are we going to do with him?” Some days I wondered why I bothered keeping a human job. Oh, right. I was an adult who didn’t want any involvement in Dad’s evil schemes. I was capable of being a productive member of society, rather than leeching off the human race like some overgrown demonic tick. And I had bills to pay. Crap.
“Could we shove him in the closet?”
“No, the stench would give him away.” I’d done a twelve-hour shift as charge nurse on the pediatric ICU and I was too tired for this shit tonight. All I really wanted was a cold beer and some mindless television. But no, apparently I got to deal with a dead surgeon instead.
Hello, I’m Faith Bettincourt, and this is my life.
Lisa fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, her glossy, caramel waves held neatly in place with a black patent headband. Her wide eyes latched onto mine. Great. She was doing the big, baby animal eyes. Everyone knew I couldn’t resist baby animal eyes.
She was tall, she was tan, and she was completely stacked. I wasn’t into women, and even I found myself giving her what she wanted to keep her happy. It hadn’t been too bad before she’d been turned into a succubus, but now she had enough mojo to turn a convent into a cauldron of simmering sexual tension.
“Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks, though?”
“Lisa, you sucked Harold dry. In his underwear. And you’re dressed in a cheerleading uniform that’s two sizes too small. How can this not be as bad as it looks?” It wouldn’t do any good to yell at her. Yelling would just make her cry, and I sucked when it came to tears.
Besides, I felt guilty enough already. Lisa hadn’t been a bad roommate before the whole Turning Into a Succubus thing. In three years, she’d never been late on the rent, she’d always kept her parts of the apartment clean, and we’d never had one of those awkward moments where you accidentally walk in on a hookup from the night before in his birthday suit rooting through the fridge. Everything was great until my half-brother decided to turn her into a wild, lust-driven succubus with no self-control.
“Maybe he’s not dead? You didn’t check for a pulse. Maybe he looks dead and he’s just passed out?” My roommate, the succubus, an eternal optimist. It was a good outlook to have when we worked the pediatric wards together—trust me, there’s no greater nurse out there than Lisa—but right now? Right now, I wanted to wring her swanlike neck. Barely five-foot-two, I’d be forced to get a step stool to reach her. Stupid, six-foot-tall, size-three succubus.
“He’s dead. Trust me. You drained the life right out of him.” Not that I could blame her. As a willing, and untapped, donor, he would have made one hell of a meal.
She sniffled and scuffed her feet together. “I have been trying to do better. I mean, he’s the first person I’ve accidentally killed in three months. And it’s not my fault, it’s Harold’s.”
“It’s Harold’s fault you ate his soul?” She didn’t expect me to believe he asked her to drain him dry, did she?
“Well, most people sort of get panicky and I know to stop, but he had this big grin on his face the whole time, so I kept eating.” She stalked back and forth across the room, wringing her hands.
“Sweetie, I love you, you know I do. We’ve been rooming together, what? Two years? Three? And you’ve handled this whole Daughter of the Devil situation great, especially after the whole succubus mess with Tolliver. But I think this Accidentally Eating People thing might be a bit of a problem.”
“Oh shit. Tolliver. Do you think he’s going to be upset?” She crossed her arms, tucking her shaking hands underneath her armpits. “He told me if I killed one more person he was going to strip my powers.”
“And that would be a bad thing?” I leaned against Harold’s desk and rested my weight on my hands. Glancing down, I noticed a brown spot on my light blue scrub pants and scratched at it with my thumbnail. It was flaky. Definitely liquid food supplement, then. Good.
“No. Yes, I mean—oh, this is hard. I would be happier if I wasn’t a soul-sucking sex demon anymore.”
“But once he strips me of my powers, protocol requires he chain me to a rock beside the lake of fire and let demon lords feast on my soul while imps bite off my toes. And you know I can’t handle anyone touching my toes. It’s just not something I can even think about right now.”
“Uh-huh.” Lisa was particular about people touching her toes. She only had one pedicurist in the entire city she’d let touch her, and the woman charged out the ass. “That doesn’t sound pleasant.”
A small, black-robed figure materialized, the cowl of its cloak pulled low to disguise the fact he was nothing more than a disembodied demonic spirit. Great. Malachi. Now my night was shot to hell. Although, he might have an idea about how to get rid of Harold’s body. He may look like a demonic pixie, but Malachi had serious power. And the connections to get things done when he needed it. “Tolliver is exaggerating.”
“Really?” Lisa asked.
“No, not really. But if it makes you feel better, the imps will give you a ceremonial nibble, and ignore you to fight with each other for scraps from the table.”
“Oh.” Her bright smile turned into a frown and her shoulders slumped forward.
“Not helping,” I said through clenched teeth. I should have known Malachi would be a pain in the ass. He was supposed to be my bodyguard, but more often than not I kept him out of trouble and not the other way around.
“What are we going to do about Mr. Bag O’Bones here?” He hovered over Harold’s body and twirled to face us. “I take it this is your handiwork, Lisa? Sloppy, but effective. I’ll give you a ten for effort but a two for style. Cheerleading outfits were out years ago.”
“I was actually going to ask about that,” I said. “We’re nurses—that’s like the most-requested stripper outfit of all time. Every guy’s got a Naughty Nurse fetish.”
“Not if their mothers were nurses like Harold’s. His turn-on isn’t Naughty Nurses, it’s Cheeky Cheerleaders, so I had to think fast. It wasn’t planned or anything. Give me a break. I wouldn’t even wear this crap when I was in high school. Polyester double knit doesn’t look good on anyone.” She stalked to Harold’s couch and plopped down, making her skirt flounce upward. I winced and averted my eyes. I didn’t need to see those parts of my roommate. “It isn’t like I ate his entire soul on purpose. He enjoyed it!”
“At least he died happy.” I picked up his ‘World’s Best Pediatrician’ trophy and tossed it from hand to hand.
Malachi chuckled. “I’m sure you made him very happy. After all, that’s the whole point of being a succubus. Men give their souls in return for the pleasure you provide.”
Lisa’s frown drooped.
“But you’re supposed to take the soul back to Hell, not eat it yourself. His Excellency won’t be pleased with you. He’s big on sharing, you know.” Malachi wagged his sleeve at her like some sort of demonic schoolmaster and I coughed to hide my giggle.
I sat the trophy down and started playing with the pens in Harold’s cup. I had one of those weird issues with clutter and disorganization in my workspace—blame nursing school—and Harold was a slob. If he had been this disorganized in surgery he would have been lucky not to have killed someone from a completely preventable mistake. “As much as it pains me to say this, Dad isn’t our problem right now.”
“He isn’t?” Malachi sounded surprised. “And why is that? Don’t tell me this is going to be another one of your cute little acts of rebellion against His Majesty. Do you know how much of an administrative hassle those are for me? Can’t you just be content playing Florence Nightingale and give me some peace?”
“This is not an act of rebellion. Besides, he’d be happy Lisa’s doing what she’s made for. He’s still not our biggest concern because, let’s be serious, what’s he going to do? Ground me for letting her drain him? He hasn’t grounded me since I tried the whole chastity pledge thing in high school.”
“I remember that fight. The other demon lords and I took bets His Excellency would suffer a heart attack right there on his throne.”
“Well, he didn’t have a heart attack and everyone managed to survive.” I pushed myself away from the desk and sat in the overstuffed black leather chair—why did doctors always get such nice chairs?—and crossed my feet on top of the desk.
“I know. I won four souls and an addled incubus.”
“See? Everybody won off the deal.” I grabbed the glass apple on Harold’s desk. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Clever.
“Except your mom with her fourth husband.” Lisa gnawed on her thumbnail. What a waste of her $30 manicure.
“Oh yeah, Henri.” I smiled at the memory of my mom’s fourth husband and the demise of their marriage. “I was so glad to be rid of him I quit the chastity club the next day.”
“And His Evilness’s fatherly instincts kicked in and snatched young Mr. Taylor’s soul,” Malachi said.
“Always with the downsides, aren’t you?”
“Sorry,” he said. “So what are we doing with Dr. Wilkins? Since he’s dead and all?”
“Could you send him to the lower demons to get rid of? They do that sometimes, don’t they?”
“We could,” Malachi said, dragging out the words.
“Really?” Lisa sat up and stopped chewing. “We could let them eat the body and no one would ever know?”
“They might. But Tolliver will hear about it and you’ll have to explain why you screwed up and drained him.”
“Damn.” She slumped back against the couch, the very picture of dejection. Desperation rolled off of her. Or maybe that was eau de Harold? I wrinkled my nose. Most likely Harold. Desperation smelled like a guy’s locker room, and this was worse. More like rotten meat and old coffee. Definitely Harold.
“So what else can we do?” I asked.
“Leave him in an alley?” Malachi suggested.
“Oh, please. You don’t think someone’s going to notice?”
I laced my fingers together and stretched them over my head. My wings were killing me, my tail itched, and my horns were starting to come out on their own accord. They usually stayed hidden while I was in public, folding underneath my skin like a demonic Swiss Army knife, but keeping everything in check took way too much effort when I was tired. Stress always made my self-control slip and it became harder to keep the human part of me firmly in place. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and focused all of my energy on keeping my extra bits hidden.
“We want someone to notice,” Malachi explained, allowing me to focus on something other than my own discomfort. “We want someone to find poor Harold and think he died of a heart attack while in the back alley with a hooker.”
“Hey!” Lisa said, and bright red flames erupted around her hair. Apparently, someone else was exhausted, too. And more than a little touchy.
“Or he got mugged,” Malachi continued. “Or any other logical explanation for why he’s dead in nothing but a pair of cheap boxers and a lab coat.”
“But look at him.” I stood up and pointed at Harold’s corpse. He reminded me of a pruned version of his former self, all gray, with his veins adding a nice touch of purple for color. “You don’t think they’ll find that a bit odd?”
Malachi floated closer. “You were hungry, Lisa. I think you pulled every bit of his soul out of him. You even loosened his fillings.”
“I couldn’t help it.” She sniffled again.
“There, there.” Malachi bounced next to her, brushing his cloak against her shoulder in what I thought was meant to be a consoling gesture. “Stop crying. You’ve already sucked him dry, might as well enjoy the high.”
“Here’s what we’ll do. Get the horrific rug that’s in front of the elevator. We’ll wrap him up and throw him into the biological waste dumpster.”
“But what about the security cameras?” Lisa stood in front of the desk, next to Harold’s body. “They’ll see Faith getting the rug and the two of us carrying him out.”
“Oh, in the name of all that’s evil.” Malachi shook the cowl of his cape back and forth. “You really aren’t the brightest demon, are you? Let me clarify. Faith, summon the rug, and once Harold’s wrapped in it, transfer him into the dumpster outside.”
“Right.” I closed my eyes, resting my hands on Harold’s desk, and focused on the green patterned rug in front of the elevator. Once I had the edges defined in my head, I willed Harold’s final resting place to heed my commands. I saw it dissolve, and I opened my eyes to watch it appear on the floor underneath Harold. I tucked the ends around him and fixated on the overlapping edges, willing them to glue themselves together and secure his body.
“Sorry, Harold,” I whispered, walking around the desk to kneel beside his head. I touched the seam over the spot where his prune-shaped heart should have been. “I would’ve liked you if you hadn’t grabbed my ass every morning. Come to think of it, I’m not all that sorry you’re dead. You kind of had it coming.”
“How touching,” Malachi said. “What a truly eloquent eulogy.”
“Shut up.” I closed my eyes and concentrated on transferring Harold’s body from his office to his temporary resting place, my arms tingling with the power flowing through me. When his body dissolved under my hand, I opened my eyes and exhaled.
“Oh man, he stained the carpet. How gross! I don’t want to be the janitor who cleans that up. Uck, human juice,” Malachi said.
“Malachi?” I stood and moved away from the spot. Nasty. Man, I was glad my vacation started tomorrow.
“Go float in front of the cameras to short them out so it explains why we never left this evening.”
“How far do I need to go back?”
“Say about seven o’clock?”
“Right. One demon disruption at seven o’clock. Be back in two seconds, kiddies.” Malachi faded out of the room.
“Lucky us,” I said once he disappeared.
“So that’s it?” Lisa asked. “No one’s going to know? I mean, Tolliver won’t find out and it’ll be okay, right?”
“I hope so. And if he does find out just tell him I ordered you to drain Harold. Dad will be so happy I’m embracing my evil side, he won’t let Tolliver punish you.”
“Tolliver won’t be happy about that.” She walked to the couch and grabbed the trench coat she had been wearing to hide her costume.
Malachi reappeared. “Won’t be happy about what?”
“Tolliver won’t be happy if I tell him Lisa killed Harold because I forced her to. He’ll think I’m trying to embrace my inheritance.”
“And that will piss him off,” Malachi agreed.
“If it comes down to it, I’ll just do what I always do with Tolliver.” I held Lisa’s hand while Malachi floated close enough to brush my shoulder.
“Plead in terror?” Lisa asked.
“No, bribe him.”
I closed my eyes and visualized my apartment. With a quiet pop and the metallic smell of the burnt fragments of reality, we phased through the portal I’d created between Harold’s office and my living room. The fabric of reality stitched itself back up around us.
My tail slipped free, wrapping around my left leg, and my wings opened, cramped inside my scrubs. Teleporting always pulled too much of my power for me to keep the rest of my anatomy in check. But morning rush hour in downtown Pittsburgh was a pain, especially when the Liberty Tunnel was under construction, and Lisa and I were running late this morning. Concessions were made.
“So, how long until we know if Tolliver’s going to catch us?” Lisa’s own wings strained her trench coat. I didn’t want to think about what a six-foot wingspan had done to her cheerleading uniform.
“If he’s going to find out, he’ll know by tomorrow afternoon, at the latest.” I walked into the kitchen area to make myself a cup of tea. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. If it comes back to anyone, it’s me. Dad won’t let him cause me too much trouble.”
Lisa followed me into our tiny kitchen and leaned against the island. “I don’t like the idea of him causing you any trouble.”
“Says the woman he turned into a succubus for grins and giggles. Why don’t you go change and I’ll make you a cup of tea to help you calm down? I bet you’re still buzzing pretty hard after eating Harold.”
“You know, he didn’t taste too bad. Considering it was Harold.”
I wrinkled my nose at that thought. The last thing I wanted to know was any details related to her unholy, and most likely disgusting, union.
“A little bit too much coffee, but other than that—”
“Shit!” a male voice outside the door shouted. Muffled thumps came from below, followed by a loud crash.
“Sounds like the guy next door dropped a body. Better hurry outside and pant over him,” Malachi said.
I raced to the front door. So what if I’d had a crush on my neighbor, Matt, since he’d moved in six months ago? Except for some awkward flirting, he barely acknowledged my existence, which was probably a good thing. Human-demon relationships never ended well. I knew from experience.
“Hey,” Malachi called. “Wings, horns, tail. No scaring the humans, remember?”
“Right.” I closed my eyes and willed my extra bits back into place. Once everything was hidden, I flung open the door and looked around the landing.
Files scattered across the steps, paving a trail to Matt. His body sprawled across the lower landing. A cardboard box crushed his chest. His normally neat black hair stuck out all over his head, and his jeans had ripped across the knee.
That wasn’t normal.
Every other time I’d seen him he’d been dressed like a Young Republican at a recruiting drive—a yummy, muscular Young Republican with a bit of a nerd complex, but a straitlaced conservative all the same: black suit, white button-down shirt, and the obligatory navy-striped tie. That’s why he was so fun to mess with. Really. It had nothing to do with the hot nerd fantasies I had about him. Not a thing.
I stepped toward him and something crunched. I lifted my foot and found a crushed pair of horn-rimmed glasses.
“Oh, in the name of all Evil!” I swore.
My day just kept getting better and better.
I winced and stepped off Matt’s demolished glasses. “I’ll pay for those.”
He looked up at me and sighed. This wasn’t the first time I’d done something stupid in front of him. I’d managed to do that less than twenty minutes after he’d moved in. It wasn’t my fault, though—his messy hair, big green eyes, and muscular build fired up every hot nerd fantasy I’d ever had and made it hard to concentrate. Besides, I’d paid for the damage after running over his mountain bike.
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from whimpering in lust. I’d been fantasizing about him for the past six months and now I had him pinned underneath a heavy box right in front of me.
“They were my backup glasses, and I need a new prescription anyway. I should have known they were going to break when they landed in front of your door.”
That didn’t sound very fantasy-like. Actually, it was sort of snarky. And a bit impatient. He’d never been snarky and impatient before. At least not during the fantasy conversations I’d had with him.
“Oh, well, I should replace them. It would be the neighborly thing to do.” I smiled at him and batted my eyelashes. My flirting skills were rusty, but I wasn’t about to let a chance at spending more time with my neighbor slip by.
“How about moving that box off his chest?” Malachi said.
Duh, Faith. The man’s immobilized here. Less flirting, more helping.
Matt’s eyes darted around. And he kept licking his lips like he was nervous, searching for something. Did he hear Malachi? Or feel some sort of resonance? I peered at my bodyguard and raised an eyebrow.
Come to think of it, he’d always been a little edgy. It would be my luck if he were one of those paranormal-sensitive types, jumping at the slightest disturbance. What a pain in the ass to deal with. I hoped he wasn’t, because I really didn’t want to come up with some sort of excuse to evict him. The whole termite thing had barely worked on the psychic when she’d been in 2C, and I didn’t have anything to hold over the exterminator this time to get him to lie.
I hurried down the ten steps between our landing and the one he sprawled across. “Let me help you move that box.”
“It’s pretty heavy,” he warned as I clattered toward him. “I overpacked my boxes when I moved here, and I didn’t realize it until I went by my storage unit to grab this one. I don’t remember it being this heavy when I put it in there.”
“I bet I can manage.” I grabbed the box and heaved it off his chest with a grunt, hobbled to the steps, and set it down. Damn, he wasn’t kidding when he said it was heavy. What did he have in there? Books made of concrete?
Malachi floated underneath the box and pressed his back against it, lifting it slightly so I could grab it at a better angle. With my unseen friend’s help, I managed to carry it up the stairs and place it on the floor next to my new neighbor’s door.
“Wow, Supergirl.” Matt pulled himself up and dusted off the front of his shirt. “You make me feel like a wimp.”
“Nah, you carried it up the first four flights of stairs. I just took it the last tiny bit to your door.” I preened and heard Malachi let out a little snort. “So what happened? Lose your footing on the fourth step? I warned you it was loose.”
He frowned at the steps. “I must have. It was the strangest thing, though. I felt this cross-breeze on my shoulder, and the next second I was tumbling down the stairs—”
“Cross-breeze?” Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. This was bad. There were no windows in the hallway, so any ‘cross-breezes’ he felt must be the result of someone phasing in or out. And the building’s demons were all accounted for when Matt fell. Which meant some other demon had phased into my building. So not good. Only a few demons would dare pop in without prior permission, and all of them sucked.
“We do have ever so many of those. Drafts, that is,” a cold voice announced from my doorway.
Tolliver. The bastard. What was he doing here?
He leaned against the doorjamb in a black silk shirt and dress pants, inspecting his fingernails. With his slick ebony hair and pale skin, he managed to rock the angst-fueled, tortured artist look pretty well. Although nothing was further from the truth. The only torturing Tolliver concerned himself with was what he inflicted upon others.
He came around more often since he kidnapped Lisa’s soul, but he never made trouble with the neighbors. So why was he intent on making mischief now? He’d claim it was a big brother’s prerogative, but I had a sneaking suspicion he enjoyed being an ass.
This was Tolliver, after all. He was the big brother who fed our puppy to a lower demon because I refused to eat a cockroach. Brothers—can’t live with them, can’t bind them into Hell without facing Dad’s wrath. But, in this instance, it might be worth it. What was the worst Dad could do? Oh, right. Yell, scream, give me the I’m So Disappointed in You lecture, and throw me into Purgatory to think about what I’d done. Man, that would be a hassle. Eh, I’d just spit in his coffee instead.
“Oh,” Matt said before walking toward us. “I didn’t realize Faith had a guest over. Sorry if I disturbed your evening.”
Tolliver regarded Matt with the same amount of esteem he reserved for imps. I hoped Matt hadn’t noticed the lack of reflection in Tolliver’s black eyes. Most mortals didn’t but, if he was as perceptive as I was starting to suspect, it could be an issue.
Matt bent to pick up his glasses, and his hand brushed my ankle. Electric tingles shot up my leg from his touch. My eyes widened. All mortals made me tingle from their touch, but never like this. It was like comparing a tiny static-electric shock to licking a nine-volt battery. Neither hurt, but his touch gave a bit more of a jolt than normal.
Thankfully, I’d been careful about keeping my mental blockade in place so his entire life story wouldn’t flood into me. The last thing I needed was to know all about his sex life. Or how much he regretted moving next door to our particular brand of dysfunctional.
“So.” He rose and waved his hand between Tolliver and me. “Have you two been dating long?”
“Dating?” My mouth dropped open. “What?”
“Yuck.” Tolliver curled up his nose and gave Matt a soul-withering stare. “That’s a little too freaky, even for me.”
“Uh… ” Matt glanced between the two of us.
“This is my half-brother, Tolliver. Tolliver, Matt. Matt, Tolliver.”
“Oh.” Matt’s shoulders relaxed slightly and he shoved his crushed glasses into his jeans pocket. I noticed he wore a black Kinks T-shirt and couldn’t help but smile. Apparently, he wasn’t too conservative. “I didn’t realize you had any siblings.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I don’t think siblings have come up since you moved in. We haven’t been neighbors that long or anything.”
“Six months,” Malachai said. “Six mind-numbingly boring months filled with you incessantly chattering about an inconsequential do-gooder lawyer out to save the world. That’s not long at all. In the name of all Evil, I miss Hell sometimes.”
Matt’s eyes widened, and darted away from mine. He motioned toward his door. “Well, I have a lot of work to do. Inside, I mean. Case files to catch up on and stuff.”
“Right, well, if you change your mind about replacing your glasses… ”
“It’s cool.” He bolted to his place.
Once the door shut, I sighed and, hands on my hips, turned to glare at my sibling. He’d gone and done it again. Why did he have to be such an evil son of a half-rate imp?
“Careful, you might set the stairs on fire with that Hell-gaze. If I were a human, I would be a tortured shell of ash right now. Luckily, I’m one premium specimen of demonic male virility and your harridan’s gaze does nothing to ruffle me.”
“Ruffle this.” I slapped him across the back of the head and pushed past him into the apartment.
“My, my, someone is in a rather temperamental mood this evening. Is it because of your dashing neighbor’s apparent lack of interest, or did something completely mundane and uninteresting happen at work today? Did someone small tragically die?”
“I’m not temperamental. Just because Lisa killed Harold—”
“Lisa killed Harold?” Tolliver said. “Really? Why?”
“Shit.” Talk about keeping secrets. I’d been around him less than five minutes and I’d already told my big brother too much. I rushed into the kitchen. “Because I told her to.”
Lisa hurried to the couch and hugged one of our throw pillows. I wanted to tell her that cowering in fear made Tolliver worse, but given her current situation, I wasn’t sure her Tolliver-related issues could be any worse.
“You told Lisa to kill your boss?”
Damn it, I was a crappy liar, and Tolliver wasn’t one to let things go. “Because Harold was harassing me. When I went to HR to file a complaint, he found out and claimed he had proof I was stealing the meds I’d reported missing that morning and selling them on the street. I’d have been out of a job and they’d have taken my nursing license.”
“And were you?” Tolliver walked into the living room, strategically blocking my eye contact with Lisa.
Damn it, he was learning.
I tried to sound innocent. “Was I what?”
“Stealing medication from the sick children on your ward and selling it on the street?”
“Don’t be stupid. First, if I was stealing drugs, do you think I would have been caught? Second, if I had the thriving drug business Harold claimed, would I be living here?” He could at least give me some credit. I wasn’t the brightest demoness in the bunch, but I wasn’t a total imbecile. Like Harold would be the one to catch me.
Not that I’d ever consider stealing pain meds from sick kids. Some things were too evil. Even for a demon.
“The first is a valid observation,” Tolliver said. “I mean, surely you would be smart enough to cover your tracks.”
“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence in my intellect.” I leaned against the island and tapped my fingers on the granite countertop, trying to act nonchalant as he unraveled my web of lies.
“The second observation is, meanwhile, irrelevant,” Tolliver continued. “You have access to millions, and yet you still live here. So, if you were selling drugs to supplement your paltry income in the healthcare industry, it wouldn’t make any difference where you live.”
“I don’t have millions. Dad has millions. I’ve said it nicely, screamed it, thrown a temper tantrum about it, and now I’ll tell you again with a heavy dose of resigned sarcasm: I don’t need his money.” Unlike some demons.
Dad had a bit of a hearing problem, though, and my allowance still arrived weekly in my bank account. It irritated me, but the extra funds were helpful. My only rule was that after I’d sent a bit to my ex-fiancé’s caregivers for the extras he might need, I always gave the rest to charity. It was my allowance, after all, to spend as I wanted. And I knew it made Dad squirm when I gave it to groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Coalition for Peace.
“Except now you’ve been fired and can’t make it on your own,” Tolliver said. “So I guess some charities are going to be missing the influx of funds coming from Sainte Faith the Beneficent until you find some other pathetic mortal job to waste your time on.”
“I wasn’t fired. He just threatened.” I pressed my fists into my back. No way would I play with my hair. It was my tell, and Tolliver knew it. And besides, Lisa was doing enough to make him suspicious by rocking back and forth like a little girl at her first scary movie. “Now that he’s dead, no one will be the wiser. In fact, I’m sure with a bit of digging, I can find proof that Harold was swiping the drugs he accused me of stealing.”
“Do you really think it’s necessary?” Tolliver lounged against the back of the couch and picked up one of our ruffled throw pillows, snorted, and tossed it across the room. “I mean, he’s dead and you still have your pathetic mortal job. All the little kiddies are still getting their medications on time. It seems to me everything is right with the world. Except I didn’t get my fair share of Lisa’s kill.”
“She followed my orders. I told her to drain him and she was compelled to obey me.” He was not going to fight me on protocol, was he? Really? The guy who took my roommate’s soul, and broke about fifty rules in the process, was fired up about technicalities?
“Hmm, I see. And why did you want to drain him instead of just capturing the soul for our father’s subjects?” Tolliver focused his black eyes on me and pressed his lips.
“Since she hasn’t mastered a full soul removal on her own, I didn’t want to lead her into a learning experience gone wrong. Like that first-grade teacher you turned into a zombie.”
“True.” Tolliver shrugged, unconcerned. “Miss Hopkins was an unfortunate accident, but you’re right—it’s best to not tempt fate.”
“And as a lower demon, isn’t she bound to do as I command her?” I was on a roll now. The zombie thing had him on the ropes.
He opened his mouth to protest, so I pushed ahead before he could say anything.
“So what’s the problem?”
He looked like he was thinking, and a thinking Tolliver was a pain in the ass.
Tolliver shifted on the couch, crossing and uncrossing his arms. The smell of burnt sugar and brimstone emanated from him, and judging by the way he fidgeted, his wings bothered him. But he had a terrible competitive streak and if I wasn’t exposing my wings, he wouldn’t either. It wasn’t much of an edge, but it might keep him distracted long enough for me to talk my way out of the whole Harold mess.
“But it’s customary to ask a demon lord before you use one of his minions for a soul extraction. It’s also polite to give the soul to me for use as I see fit.” He knew he was on precarious ground. Technically, he was right, but all I had to do was call Dad and he’d be in bigger trouble for turning Lisa into a demon than I would be for killing Harold.
“And why would I waste time kissing up to you? Lisa’s my roommate.”
“Because you owe me for the soul extraction?”
“Here.” I reached into a canister on the island and tossed him a macadamia nut cookie. When in doubt, bribe him. “Payment for your trouble.”
“Oh, these are my favorites.” He chuckled and took a greedy bite. “But I don’t know if they’re sufficient payment. Perhaps I want the neighbor instead?”
“No deal.” No way would Dad let him hijack someone’s soul for a laugh. There were rules about that sort of thing. Not many rules, but there were rules. Although, they hadn’t stopped him with Lisa.
“What about that priest over at St. Timothy’s? You know he’s up to no good. Besides, think about how much fun you have tormenting him once he’s gotten into the communion wine.” Unlike normal mortals, religious clergy were fair game, and Tolliver loved messing with the drunk in charge of St. Timothy’s. Driving that poor priest insane was a personal mission for him.
“Can I use my powers against him? You know how funny it is when he freaks out. Please?”
“If it’s subtle. No blowing up the church, no flying him out over the city where people might see, nothing like that.”
“Oh, sis!” Tolliver clasped his hands in front of his heart and reached up to wipe a nonexistent tear from his eye. “You wound me with your lack of faith. I would never dream of doing something to threaten your stronghold here in lovely… where are we again?”
“Yes, Tolliver, we’re in Pittsburgh.”
“Are you sure? Why would you live in Pittsburgh?”
“I like it here.”
“But it’s cold. Really, really cold. I don’t like the cold. And that white stuff… what do they call it?”
“Snow?” Lisa suggested.
“That’s it.” Tolliver pointed at her. “Snow. I don’t like snow.”
“That was an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise for me now that you won’t visit in the winter.” The big sissy. A demon lord afraid of a little snow. If only Weight Watchers knew the Demon of Gluttony was such a wuss.
“But what about the other?”
I raised an eyebrow. “The other?”
“You know, with the ball and the sticks and the ice and the weird face paint and the helmets?”
“You mean hockey?” I turned to the sink and filled the teapot with water. Yeah, one of these days Weight Watchers was going to love talking to me about my brother. Especially when I told them he could melt fat with his mind and reduce the calories in anything with one glance. I grabbed three teacups from the cabinet.
“Yes, hockey,” Tolliver said. Instead of answering, I stared at the burner and watched the flame flare to life. “You know how much of a fan Mr. White-Lights-and-Fluffy-Clouds is of professional sports. I have it on good authority He put money on Pittsburgh’s teams last year.”
I turned to him, my attention piqued. “You can’t be serious. You’re trying to tell me the Alpha is placing sports bets?”
“What bookie is going to take odds against Him? I mean, it’s pretty obvious He’s got an outside influence on the game.” I opened the cabinet over the stove and removed the box filled with chamomile tea bags. He had to be joking. Really, how would a bookie take that call? ‘Hello, excuse me? This is God and I’d like to place a small wager on Saturday’s Penguins game.’
“That’s what the world of online gambling is for. He goes in, makes a bet, and boom. No one knows if the guy making the bet is the Alpha or just Joe Schmo on the street. It’s ingenious.” Tolliver sauntered to the island and took a handful of cookies from the jar. “And don’t make me any of that stuff. You know it wires me.”
“You are messed up, and regardless of whether or not the Alpha is taking part in sports gambling, I like it here.” I returned one of the cups to the cabinet and finished setting up the tea.
“It’s your pyre, being so close to where He spends time incognito. What happens if you run into each other? Just going to say hello? Ask about the weather where He’s from? Let me tell you, it’s cloudy with a high chance of harp music.”
“I’ll deal with it when it comes. If it comes. Besides, every time we’ve met before He’s been very nice.” I turned back to the island and grabbed a cookie for myself before sliding onto one of the kitchen stools.
“Well, just because He and Dad are chummy now doesn’t mean things won’t change in the future. And besides, if the Alpha is so great, why does He have a whole army full of psychotic nephilim with no other purpose than to kill us? Talk about passive-aggressive manifestations of sibling rivalry.” Tolliver began shoving cookies in his mouth. I tried not to gag. Ugh, had no one ever told him it was gross to talk with your mouth full?
“The Angale aren’t all that effective at demon killing, so I don’t think He’s got much to do with them. I’m pretty sure if God wanted us dead, we’d be dead already. Now toddle on back to whatever plane you existed on before you came here to bug me and knock my neighbor down the stairs.”
“Nah, I think I’ll stay. Lisa and I have some catching up to do.” He grinned at Lisa and licked his lips.
Great, now I was going to be sick.
“No demon-demon sex on this plane. Dad’s rules. Remember?”
“We’ll move into another plane.” He reached for a cookie.
I smacked his hand. “I don’t think Lisa’s up to it tonight. I mean, she did complete her first intentional soul extraction today. You could be a benevolent master and let her rest.”
“Fine, take the night off and rest.” He pouted as the teakettle whistled. “I will return to Hell and come back tomorrow if it fits into my very busy schedule.”
“Why don’t you come for lunch tomorrow?” I winked at Lisa, and slid off the stool to get our hot water. She had a day-shift rotation at the local community clinic and wouldn’t be home, anyway. And I knew Tolliver wouldn’t go searching for her. The sight of blood made him woozy. Like I said: total wuss.
“Only if you’ll be serving cookies.”
“There will be cookies.”
“And no vegetables. You know how I feel about vegetables. Noxious things.”
“Fine.” Tolliver nodded and snapped his fingers, disappearing from my living room with a quiet pop.
“Well, that was close,” Lisa said.
Tolliver popped back into the room.
My mouth dropped open. What the Hell was he doing?
“Don’t you think it’s weird your neighbor felt me push past him?”
The cookie I was holding slipped out of my fingers and smashed on the floor.
“And I’m sure I saw him react when Malachi spoke. They aren’t supposed to do that, are they?”
“No, no they’re not.” I tried to stay calm but my insides were churning worse than the time I got a false-positive on an EPT pregnancy test in nursing school. Tolliver was right. Humans shouldn’t be able to detect our presence in any way unless we chose to make ourselves visible. If Matt had been able to feel Tolliver push past, that meant we were all in a very shaky position.
“Huh, must be a coincidence.” Tolliver snapped his fingers and disappeared. Hopefully for good this time.
“Most likely not,” I said to the space where he had been. Something was definitely not right about my neighbor.
A deep voice sounded next to the stove. “That was what I thought, as well.”
I spun around and stared at my former boss. The one who was supposed to be dead and stuffed inside the biological waste dumpster. “What are you doing here? You’re dead.”
“Paperwork mix-up.” Harold floated through the island, spinning. “Apparently, no one was expecting me.”
“And what are you doing here?”
“Haunting you, of course,” he said. “What else am I supposed to do? You had me killed.”
“I did not.” I waved my hand toward Lisa. “She killed you all on her own.”
“I did,” she agreed. “Sorry, by the way. I didn’t actually mean to, you know, kill you.”
“Eh, if you’ve got to go… ”
“And you do,” I said. “Now. Because I’m not having a ghost hanging about here, too. My life is complicated enough as it is.”
“You’re going to need me.” Harold floated to the cookie jar. “Are those macadamia nut? I used to love your macadamia nut cookies. Oh well, it’s not like I’d really enjoy them now, anyway.”
“Yes, they are, and no, I’m not going to need you.”
“Yes, you are,” Harold said. “Like I tried to tell Little Miss Murderer over there, you know, before she distracted me by taking off all her clothes and climbing in my lap, that guy who’s following you around is just creepy.”
“What guy?” I looked between Harold’s ghost and Lisa. He’d asked me to come by his office to talk before I left tonight, but I’d gotten sidetracked. By the time I’d made it there, Lisa had already turned him into a mid-evening snack. Could it have been about something other than the HR complaint and the missing meds I’d reported this morning?
“Never mind,” Harold huffed. “It’s pretty rude of you to send me to my eternal rest ahead of schedule and not even keep me entertained while they get my paperwork in order.”
“Harold, what creepy guy?” I asked.
He faded out, not bothering to answer me.
Crap. My night kept getting better and better.