a charity novella benefiting Autism Speaks by Boone Brux
When ultra-shy pushover Faye Albert decides to live a little, she inadvertently binds her soul to Satan by following him on Twitter. And overnight, her dreams of being confident, beautiful, and adored by men are coming true. No longer is she overlooked, pushed out of her place in line, or just plain pushed over.
But it comes at a price: if she doesn’t figure out how break the contract, she’ll lose her soul to the Dark Prince forever.
With time running out, and no idea how to unfollow Satan, she enlists the help of Christopher White, a gorgeous photographer from work. All the while, Satan’s little helper dogs her every step and offers her things she’s only dreamed of, tempting Faye with a lifetime of earthly treasures. And unconditional love. But will she say yes to a love that knows no bounds?
Author: Boone Brux
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 96 pages
Release Date: April 2012
Imprint: Entangled Publishing Charity Anthology
Purchase the anthology:
100% of net profits will be donated to Autism Speaks
© 2012 Brooke Moss
Faye Albert jangled her wad of adorable bling, trying unsuccessfully to coax her door key out from hiding. The mass coalesced into a tighter ball.
A drab green grocery bag tottered precariously on top of the stack of files, but she was determined to win this battle. She shook her keys again and was rewarded with a whack on the knuckles from the heavy plastic peace sign.
A beaded angel wing wrapped itself tightly around her house key and held it prisoner. Not to be outmaneuvered, she lifted the metal blob to her mouth and bit the wing, giving it an extra yank. POP! The string snapped, sending a spray of tiny pearls into her mouth and eyes.
Faye gasped, inhaling several airborne beads. They coated her newly applied lip gloss like lint balls on a static-filled sweater. She raspberried her lips, but was only successful in spewing saliva against the door. She spit again, rolling her lips, but the beads refused to be unseated.
“Well, crap.” The plink of pearls bouncing down the wooden, spiral stairwell ricocheted behind her. “Double crap.”
She turned her attention back to the door and rattled the metal glob again. Before she could free the key, the door jerked open. Whitney, the super-model roommate from hell, filled the doorway.
“Oh, it’s only you,” said the blonde. With a flip of her ponytail, she turned and disappeared into their apartment.
“Who else would it be?” Faye mumbled, following her inside.
They had been roommates since college. After Whitney rocketed to model stardom, Faye had expected her to get her own place. They’d never been that close, simply convenient roommates. But as time went on and Whitney didn’t budge, Faye realized that she was being used. Born with beauty—and enough brains to know that she didn’t have any—Whitney had kept Faye close. Why not? Where Whitney was scattered and vain, Faye was organized, dependable, and a plain Jane. All in all, the perfect companion for an attention whore.
She slid her load onto the kitchen island and tore off a paper towel, swiped it across her mouth, and tossed it in the wastebasket.
A high-pitched yelp greeted her.
“Flash!” Faye squatted and retrieved the dog from under the counter. “What are you doing here?
“The old hag dropped him off.” Whitney didn’t look up from her fashion magazine. “Said you’d agreed to watch him.”
“Huh.” Faye scratched his head. “I don’t remember that.”
Flash had the coloring and markings of a Rottweiler, but his body was all Welsh Corgi. He reminded her of a footstool on toothpicks. She watched him for Mrs. P, their nosy neighbor. Sometimes his visits were planned, but most, like tonight, were drop-ins. Sadly, she never had a date to interfere with dog watching. She figured Mrs. Perkins sensed this and capitalized on that weakness.
Whitney gave a disapproving grunt. Great, she was in another bad mood. What was it this time—a fight with a photographer, or bad lighting? Faye set Flash on the floor and grabbed her quart of milk, turning toward the refrigerator. Whitney’s perfect body stretched across the pages of the magazine she was reading. If Faye ignored the spread, she might be saved from a night of scrutinizing every detail of her roommate’s photo shoot.
The slap of a second magazine hitting the island startled Faye. This was not good—so not good. She focused on shoving her milk into the nearly empty refrigerator and willed herself not to turn around. Like a flock of crazed chickadees, the pages flipped frantically behind her. She knew this routine. Whitney was deep in the throes of what Faye referred to as The Five Stages of Validation. By the sound of it, Whitney still hovered on step one: Denial. Faye silently groaned and stared at a moldy block of white cheese. Her evening was toast.
Dear Lord, please let her jump directly to step five, the “I’ll show you” phase. Amen.
“I can’t believe they used this photo of me. I look huge.”
Faye wondered how long she could stare into the refrigerator before looking like a moron. She yanked open the freezer door and stepped closer. Maybe she could feign hypothermia. Surely if she passed out on the floor, Whitney would stop her ranting long enough to call 911.
“I mean, look at this,” Whitney whined.
Faye made a note to fill out one of those Do Not Resuscitate forms.
“They may as well have stuck me in a pig costume.”
Maybe scooting the condiments around would buy her a few minutes. She shuffled the ketchup to a lower shelf.
“Faye,” Whitney barked. “Look at this. Tell me if I’m wrong.”
Faye sighed and shut the doors. Just because her life wasn’t as exciting as Whitney’s didn’t mean she wanted to live vicariously through her. She pasted on a smile and turned.
“I’m sure this is a breach of contract,” Whitney said.
Good. Step two: Blame.
A magazine whizzed across the counter and rebounded off Faye’s stomach. She slapped a hand onto the glossy pages, pinning the magazine against the granite before it slid off. Perfect teeth, flawless skin, and sculpted muscles Faye was sure didn’t exist in nature stared back at her.
“I think you look beautiful.”
Whitney rolled her eyes and reached across the island to snatch the magazine back. “Beautiful? Are you blind?”
“No.” But being deaf would have distinct benefits right now. Time for ego damage control. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve seen you look more beautiful.”
Whitney harrumphed. “Not my most beautiful, but even with this amateurish lighting I still look better than Candy Jenkins.” She crammed her finger between two pages and flipped open the magazine. “The girl has got some thighs on her.”
Excellent. Step three: Comparison. At this rate, Whitney would complete her trauma ritual within the next five minutes and move onto the treadmill and begin the Top Model marathon that always followed her episodes. Faye attempted the diversionary tactic of changing the subject.
“So…” In one smooth motion, she scooped up her purse and the files and headed to her bedroom. “What do you have planned for tonight?”
The click of doggy nails and the squeak of the chair being pushed away from the counter heralded Flash and Whitney’s pursuit.
“There’s a new restaurant in midtown we’re trying, some kind of Brazilian steakhouse. My friend said the waiters come to the table with big hunks of meat on skewers and serve you. I guess they have like a hundred different types of meat. It’s perfect for this low-carb diet I’m on.”
“Meat on a stick. Now that’s sure to be a hit.”
“I know, right?” Whitney pointed at her. “You should come with us.”
Faye set the pile of folders on her desk and plopped down in her desk chair. With a Wingardium Leviosa wave of her hand, she pushed the computer’s on button and sank into the big, leather desk chair. The machine hummed to life. “Sorry, I have tons of work to do.”
“Come on,” Whitney cajoled. “What’s more fun—having an adult evening out or babysitting a dog?”
Flash jumped onto Faye’s bed, did two circles, and settled next to the pillow. Definitely dog-sitting. She’d rather pluck herself bare with dull tweezers than experience another Friday night with Whitney and her friends. The last time she’d gone, she’d spent the entire evening as Whitney’s official holder, holding her purse, her coat, their places in line, and the table while Whitney danced with everybody in the club.
“I really can’t.” Her Twitter page glowed like a beacon, calling to her. She hit the refresh button. “I promised Mrs. P.”
“That old lady plays you like an X-box. She never asked you to watch her mutt.”
Flash growled and Whitney growled back.
“It might have slipped my mind.” Faye clicked the connect tab. A message from @HopelessRomantic popped onto the screen. Her smile widened.
“You’re the most efficient person I know. You don’t remember because the old battle-axe didn’t ask.”
“I don’t mind.” Faye leaned into her screen to read.
@CrispyCream What are you doing tonight?
Though she’d chosen @CrispyCream in honor of her favorite doughnut franchise, in hindsight, spelling it differently might have made her sound like a stripper.
“You know, there’s more to life than dog-sitting and Twitter.”
Faye glanced away from Hopeless’s message and looked at Whitney. “What?”
“Twitter.” She pointed to the computer. “You’re obsessed.”
“Am not.” Faye hated when Whitney started on her about being a recluse. “I just enjoy it, that’s all.”
“Uh-huh.” Whitney crossed her arms over her ample bosom and leaned against the doorframe. “Why not do something daring for once? Blow off work and live a little?”
“Because.” She exaggerated every vowel. “I work for Pierre Shogun, the biggest, most neurotic interior designer in the city. If I don’t do my work, I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, all this opulence disappears.”
Whitney waved her hand absently. “I’ve got money.”
Faye raised her eyebrows. “Speaking of which, you’re two months behind in rent.”
“Fine,” Whitney continued, ignoring the reference to money. “But when you’re old and alone, still living in this apartment, I’m going to say I told you so.”
Images of Faye’s cardigan-clad skeleton clutching a taxidermied Flash flittered through her mind. Nobody would find her until the smell of her rotting corpse drove one of her neighbors to complain. She shuddered. Sadly, the prospect wasn’t all that unbelievable.
“Hey,” Faye said. “When’s your reservation?”
“Wow.” She tapped the face of her watch. “You only have three hours. Better get ready.”
Horrification spread across Whitney’s face. “I haven’t even picked out what I’m going to wear yet.” She pivoted and disappeared out the door.
Faye turned her attention back to the computer and flexed her fingers.
@HopelessRomantic, Tweeting, eating, & meeting new friends. You?
She cringed at her pitiful rhyming attempt. “Was that corny?”
Flash gave a sleepy grunt of approval.
A reply popped onto the screen.
@CrispyCream, Waiting for you.
Her heart beat a little faster. Several times a day she’d catch herself fantasizing about Hopeless, imagining what he would act and look like. She wasn’t even certain he was a man. When the only communication you had was tweeting, it was tough to tell.
If she were pretty, maybe she’d chance socializing. At least with looks she’d be able to get a date and enjoy a free meal before the guy dumped her. Plain wasn’t a suitable description for her. Invisible, unremarkable, and forgettable, were more like it. Oftentimes, people at work actually forgot she was in the room. Most couldn’t remember her name. Faye—was that so hard? But no. They’d called her Faith, Feona, Kaye, even Fanny. Really? Fanny? No, she was safer sticking to her cyber world.
@HopelessRomantic Well I’m here.
She prayed her tweet sounded cool, maybe even a little sexy. The desk chair creaked as she rocked, waiting for his reply. It didn’t take long.
@CrispyCream And here I am. What do you say we spend the night together?
Faye pulled at the neck of her sweatshirt. Whew, the guy knew how to tweet.
@HopelessRomantic I’m all yours.
She clicked the Tweet button and sat back. Dang, when had she turned into such a tart? The conversations between her and HR had heated up over the last month, shifting from “Hey there.” To “Wish I was there.” At times, it was all she could do to get home and see if he’d left her a message.
She’d briefly contemplated a real life meeting, but nausea and the cold sweats would set in, reminding her she was a social ignoramus. With her luck, he’d be married, gay, or a serial killing rodeo clown.
The manufacturer’s generic ringtone erupted inside her purse, shocking her from her what if musings. Private Caller flashed on the phone screen. Nobody but Pierre Shogun or clients called her, and that was only on the business phone Pierre had given her so he could reach her anytime. This was her private cell ringing.
“Faye?” a velvety masculine voice said on the other end.
“Yes.” Her mind raced, trying to put a face to the familiar voice. “This is Faye.”
“Hi, this is Christopher White.”
“Uhhh—” Her thoughts raced around her head, searching for a Christopher White other than the gorgeous photographer at work. “Christopher…”
“Right—right.” Her head bobbed up and down. “Christopher from work—riiight.” She continued to nod like a bobblehead dog that had no intention of stopping. “How did you get my number?”
Damn! The question had come out much more suspicious than she’d wanted. Christopher White was the one flesh and blood man she daydreamed about. He was a photographer at Shogun Designs. Though they rarely worked together directly, what interaction she’d had with him had always been pleasant. That fact that he was hot to the nth degree didn’t hurt.
“I hope you don’t mind,” he continued. “I sweet-talked Tiffany in human resources into giving me your number.”
Faye’s stomach did a little flip. “Wow, you really must have wanted to talk to me. Getting information out of Tiffany is harder than wrestling a greased pig.”
A deep chuckle resonated through the phone. “Yeah, it wasn’t easy, but I’ll have to take your word about wrestling pigs.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose. God, she sounded like such an idiot. This was why she didn’t date. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Well, Pierre mentioned that you were headed out to the chapel site on the Bandicott Estate tomorrow.”
“Yes, tomorrow morning.” Her heart sunk a bit. Of course this was business. Why would somebody like Christopher White be calling to ask her out? That kind of thing never happened. “I need to make sure the construction crew knows what to take.”
“I’m heading out there as well. Pierre wants me to shoot the chapel before it’s deconstructed. I’ve reserved a car for 9:00 a.m. and thought we could ride together.”
A thrill raced through her. “Together?”
“Yeah, no sense in you taking the train and a cab when you can ride in comfort.”
“Thank you.” She swallowed hard, trying to calm the wave of excitement that threatened to turn her back into the embarrassing nerd she’d been in high school. “That’s very sweet of you to offer.”
“Well, I’m just a sweet guy. That and Shogun Designs is picking up the bill.”
Faye gave an unladylike snort. “Then I definitely accept.”
“Great. How about we meet at the Continental Joe’s House of Java on Grand?”
“Sure. I go there all the time.”
“Come early so you have enough time to grab a coffee.”
“Okay.” Unable to think of anything clever or intelligent to say, she opted to end the call. Rule #14 of The Shy Girl’s Guide to Living: Better to seem cool and collected instead of a rambling idiot. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“It’s a date. Night, Faye.”
“Good night, Christopher.”
She ended the call but continued to stare at her phone. Was it really a date or just a figure of speech? Who cared? Tomorrow she’d be spending the morning with Christopher White, the number one and only on her lust list.
“I think we should celebrate my good luck.” She looked at Flash. “Time for dinner.”
He didn’t budge.
“Please, don’t get up.”
He opened his eyes, blinked once, and closed them again.
She shuffled to the kitchen. A balanced diet was important, so she made sure to include the three basic food groups: soft, crunchy, and bubbly. She set two doughnuts, chips and dip, and an icy glass of diet soda on a tray.
Careful not to spill, she hefted the tray and slung Flash’s overnight bag onto her shoulder before returning to her room. She dropped the bag at the foot of her bed and set her snacks on the left side of the desk for easy access. Finally, time to relax.
Whitney appeared at her door wearing a lacey hot pink bra and matching thong. What was she, like nine feet tall? Faye eased into her chair and refocused on her screen.
“Have you seen that pink mini I bought last week?”
“Hall closet.” Being a bit nosy, Faye scrolled through @HopelessRomantic’s followers. “Still in the bag.”
“Oh, right. Sure you don’t want to live on the edge and come eat some meat? I could loan you something to wear.”
She glanced at Whitney. “Positive, but thanks.”
“Come on.” Her voice raised an octave, dripping with sweetness. She puckered in a classic Whitney pout, usually directed at men, and always executed to get her way. “I like having you there.”
Faye shook her head. “I’d love to, but I’ve just got too darn much work.”
“Well, since I can’t lure you out of your cave with meat on a stick, how about tomorrow night? There’s a new dinner-dance club opening, Kapow. It’s got a superhero theme.” Her voice rose to a sing-song note. “I have V.I.P. tickets.”
Damn, I should have opted for meat night. At least she could have cut out early.
“Unless you’re embarrassed to be seen with me?” Whitney exaggerated her pout and widened her eyes to a big basset hound stare. “Then I’d understand.”
Guilt poked at Faye even though she knew she was being manipulated. As shallow as Whitney was, Faye honestly believed things like flat hair or last year’s styles upset her. After all, hardships were relative. If you’ve gotten everything you ever wanted in life, wouldn’t a zit on the day of a photo shoot be fairly traumatic, even if you were blond, beautiful, and got everything you wanted?
“Fine.” Faye silently cursed herself, hating her inability to say no. “I’ll go…if I get my work done.”
“Oh, goodie.” Whitney bounced like a beautiful jack-in-the-box. “It’ll be fun. I promise.”
“I’m sure it will be,” she lied.
“You shouldn’t let that fleabag on your bed. Who knows what kind of vermin he’s carrying?”
Flashed lifted his head and bared his teeth.
Whitney returned the growl. “Back at ya, quadruped.”
“Children, no fighting.” Faye mimicked a clap. “And Whitney, nice use of a big word.”
She giggled. “Thanks, I bought one of those Word of the Day calendars. Quadruped: an animal, especially a mammal, having four feet.”
Whitney gave her ponytail a flip and turned to leave, giving Faye way too much backside view. She closed her eyes and tried to block out the barrage of insecurities that assaulted her whenever Whitney paraded around the house scantily clad. The chair creaked as she slowly pivoted to face her screen and snacks.
“Noooo.” Faye formed the word, muttering it quietly. It wasn’t difficult to pronounce. Two letters. One syllable. She looked at Flash. “Why can’t I just say no?”
He barked with doggie understanding.
She smiled and stretched out on the bed beside him. He waddled over to her, performed two full circles, and settled against her chest. What was the big deal? Lots of people preferred dogs and online relationships over real people. She stroked his soft fur. It was less messy that way.
Again, she silently formed the word no. Her lips seemed to work, but it was her nerve that always failed her. If she could just take a stand, her life would be exponentially better. She sighed, knowing it wasn’t going to happen tonight.
At least she’d dodged Whitney’s meat invitation. Just because she was shy, people didn’t seem to realize she had her own opinions. Everybody thinking they knew what was best for her got very tiring. She had dreams, and being Pierre’s slave the rest of her life wasn’t one of them.
The bathroom door slammed, followed by the squeak of the shower handle. She’d lied about her mountain of work. Besides examining some photos of an old church being demolished tomorrow, all she’d had to do was map out its location. Now with Christopher offering her a ride, she was free to spend the evening locked in the Internet’s embrace, chatting with @HopelessRomantic.
For a painfully shy and socially awkward girl, the Internet was a gift from the gods. Who needed a social life when she had Twitter? One of the perks of chatting online was that it could be done in her favorite sweatshirt, wongie-waistbands, and fuzzy slippers.
After changing clothes, she plunked into her chair and continued to scroll through Hopeless’s followers. Her arrow stopped. “What the heck?”
She scooted forward in her chair and squinted at the screen, trying to understand what she was reading.
@TheDevil was following @HopelessRomantic.
She clicked on @TheDevil’s profile.
“By following you willingly enter a binding contract to give Satan dominion over your soul, and agree to do his bidding until you are released from his service.”
She sat back and smirked. Boy, some people had too much time on their hands. A low growl issued from Flash. He was perched at the edge of the bed, his front paws dangling over the side, and he was staring at her.
“What’s the matter, boy?”
He gave a high-pitched yelp.
She scrounged in his bag and pulled out a much-loved hedgehog. “Do you want Hoggers?”
He yelped again, tilting his head to the side. She tossed the animal onto her bed. He leapt on it, enthusiastically squeaking the toy. She laughed as he held it between his paws and began gnawing on its upturned nose. That would keep him busy for a while. She turned back to the monitor and scrolled through Satan’s tweets.
@gothmother Your welcome package is on the way.
@snowangel Nice try. Better luck next time.
Be daring. Join the fold.
Faye reread the last tweet. Though not sent to anybody in particular, the sentiment felt directed at her. She shook off the notion and scrolled through more messages.
Nothing says eternal Hell like a fruitcake.
Reruns of Who’s the Boss? I’m in Hell.
“I liked that show,” she mumbled, continuing to read.
More tweets about welcome packages. Several references to better luck next time. She scanned his stats. @TheDevil followed over a million people, but only forty-nine followed back. Three new messages appeared on his board.
Don’t think, just follow.
Don’t be boring, be daring.
Faye slowly exhaled, mesmerized by the messages popping onto the screen. She pushed the arrow toward the top and hovered over the Follow button. Messages about being the person she wanted to be flashed one after the other onto her screen. She stared as ‘Come on, do something daring’ appeared. They were the same words Whitney had used. She suddenly felt outside herself. Her finger stroked the mouse.
Flash stood at the edge of the bed, growling.
“It’s not like it’s really the devil.”
“But I’d have something to retaliate with when she tells me to live a little,” she argued.
Be bold appeared on the screen.
Flash’s growl turned into a whine.
Yeah, be bold. She could always Unfollow. “Why not have a laugh?”
He barked, snarling as her finger stroked the button.
“It’s not real, Flash.” She looked at him and back to the computer. “It’s no—” She held her breath. “Big—” Her finger lightly pressed against the gray plastic. “Deal.”
The plus sign changed to a check, turning the white Follow to a green Following tab. @TheDevil’s followers ratcheted up one to 50. A mournful howl erupted from Flash. Dread washed through her.
“It’s okay, boy.” Her words sounded unconvincing. “It’s just a joke.”
@CrispyCream Your welcome package is on the way.
She leaned back in her chair and exhaled. “I can’t wait.”