"Key word: wanted. I thought I had them." My heart still mourned Erik, but I had begun to heal from his loss, moving on with life the way we all must after losing a loved one. Knowing - or, well, thinking - he'd been killed in a robbery didn't exactly give me peace, but it did provide an explanation. If there was any shred of truth to Hugh's dangerous theory, that Milton - a potential assassin - might have been responsible, then my whole world was suddenly knocked offkilter. And in that scenario, the big issue wasn't that Milton had done it. What became important was why he had done it. Because if he was one of those Hellish assassins lurking in the shadows, then someone higher up had given him his orders, meaning Hell had a reason to want Erik dead.
"You okay?" Hugh's hand on mine made me jump. "Jesus, Georgina. You're like ice."
"I'm kind of in shock," I said. "This is big, Hugh. Huge."
"I know," he said, not sounding happy at all. "Promise me you won't do anything foolish. I'm still not sure I should have told you."
"You should have," I said, squeezing his hand and making no such promises about the foolish part. "Thank you."
I had to leave shortly thereafter, returning to assist Happy. A little of her zeal about the pure, magical nature of children had faded in that time. I think it was the six-year-old who asked for a nose job that might have cracked her. As for me, I was in a daze, stunned over what Hugh had told me. Erik murdered. His dying words to me had implied something more was going on, but there'd been no evidence to prove it. Or wait . . . was there? I vaguely remembered the glass pattern of his broken window, the suspicion from the police that it had been broken from within. But what did I do with this theory? How did I get the answers I needed?
Equally amazing to me was the concession Hugh had made in telling me this. He valued his job and his comfortable position. He really wasn't the type to try to upset Hell or ask questions about things that didn't concern him. Yet he'd pursued his hunch about Milton and passed on the news to me, his friend. Hell made desperate, soulless creatures out of its employees - and most certainly liked it that way - but I doubted any of the higher-ups had imagined the levels of friendship we were still capable of managing.
Naturally, only one other thing could have distracted me from this new development, and that was Jerome's presence in my condo later that night. I was returning home after work and sensed his aura coming from within as soon as I put my key to the door. My fears and theorizing about Erik and Milton moved to one part of my brain, replaced by all the old speculation about the mystery transfer.
When I entered, I found Jerome sitting in the living room with Roman, both at their ease and barely acknowledging my presence.
"And so," Jerome was saying, "that's why you need to do this. As soon as possible. Nanette's people have been at it for a long time, so you've got a lot of ground to cover. Set up a schedule - I don't care how rigorous it is - and make those slackers start putting in their time at the alley."
I stared incredulously. "You're here about the bowling competition?"
Both men looked at me, Jerome seeming irritated at the interruption. "Of course. The sooner you start practicing, the better."
"You know what else might be better the sooner it happens ?" I produced the well-worn HR memo with a flourish. "You telling me if I'm being transferred or not. My money's on it being a mistake because surely, surely you wouldn't put off telling me. Right?"
Several heartbeats of silence hung in the room. Jerome held me in his dark, dark gaze, and I refused to look away. At last, he said, "No. It's real. You're being transferred."
My jaw wanted to drop to the ground. "Then why . . . why am I only just now hearing about it?"
He sighed and made an impatient gesture. "Because I just found out about it. Someone jumped the gun and delivered the memo to you before telling me." His eyes glinted. "Don't worry, I wasn't too thrilled about that myself. I made sure they know my feelings on the matter."
"But I . . ." I swallowed. "I was so sure there was a mistake. . . "
"There was," he agreed. "Just not the kind you were thinking of."
I wanted to sink to the floor and melt away but forced myself to stay strong. I had to ask the next most important question, the question that would shape the next phase of my life.
"Where . . . where am I going?"
Jerome studied me once again, this time I think just to drag out the suspense and agony. Bastard. At last, he spoke.
"You're going to Las Vegas, Georgie."
I'd been bracing myself for "Cleveland" or "Guam." I was too much of a pessimist to think I might be offered something even moderately appealing. If I was already going through the trauma of leaving Seattle, then surely it would be for somewhere terrible.
"Did you say Las Vegas?" I asked, sinking down onto my couch. Immediately, I guessed the catch. "Ah. It's not Las Vegas, Nevada, right? It's a different Las Vegas. New Mexico ? Or some other continent?"
"Sorry to disappoint you and your martyr fantasies, Georgie." Jerome lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. "It's Las Vegas, Nevada. I think you even know the archdemon there - Luis. Isn't he a friend of yours?"
I blinked. "Luis? Yeah. I mean, in as much as an archdemon can be." That got a small smile from Jerome, though I only barely noticed. I had worked for Luis a long time ago, and if I had to be honest, he was probably my favorite boss of all time. That wasn't to say Jerome was a terrible one, but Luis - while strict - still had an easy way about him that could sometimes make you forget you were damned for all eternity. "So . . . my orders are to go to Las Vegas and work for Luis."
"Yes," said Jerome.
I looked back at him from where I'd been staring vacantly out the window. "Is there any way to change that? To stop it? Isn't there anything I can do to just stay here? And are you sure it's not a mistake - what with the delivery mix-up?"
Jerome's dark eyebrows rose. It was one of those rare moments when he'd been caught off-guard enough to display surprise. "You don't want to go? I mean, I'm flattered you'd want to stay under my rule, but I'd think you would be pleased with this situation. Las Vegas is perfect for a half-ass succubus like you."
I ignored the jab - though he had a point. Las Vegas was such a breeding ground for sin and salvation that it was nearly packed to bursting with servants of both Heaven and Hell. It probably had one of the highest concentrations of succubi in the world, meaning it was easy to slide by with quotas. Here, I was the only succubus, so my number of corrupted souls was scrutinized heavily. In Las Vegas, there'd be plenty of go-getter succubi to cover for slackers like me.
"It's not about you," I said slowly. "It's about . . . Seth."
Jerome sighed loudly and stamped out his cigarette on my coffee table. I supposed I should be glad it wasn't my couch or carpet. "Of course it is. Because in the grand scheme of the universe, your boyfriend is important enough to make Hell's HR change their minds about a re-org. Come on, Georgie. How naive are you? How many transfers have you had over the years? Or perhaps I should ask, how many transfers do you know of that were cancelled because someone 'didn't feel like it'?"
"None," I admitted. At most, Hell would take unhappy employees into account and move them out of places they weren't being productive. I had requested transfers before and gotten a couple of them. But once HR made up its mind? That was it. The cold truth of this, that it wasn't a mistake and that I couldn't stop it, was beginning to wrap around me. I tried to make sense of it another way. "But why? Why did they decide to this? I've been a good employee. . . ." Yet, even as I spoke, I grew uncertain. Jerome looked at me knowingly.
"I haven't been a bad employee," I amended. "Not exactly."
"This isn't a game. We don't want mediocre employees who can keep the status quo. We want souls. We want to win. And you've spent most of your time here being mediocre. Don't glare at me like that. You know I'm right. You've had fits and starts of productivity, the most notable being when you were under duress. Even that's been inconsistent." I'd made a bargain with Jerome a year ago, in which I'd behaved like a model succubus for a while. After I'd helped rescue him from summoning, there'd been an unspoken acceptance of me slacking off once again without getting any grief from him. "If you'd thrived here and turned over large amounts of souls, I doubt you'd be leaving. So, if you're looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror."