And once I overcame my sleepiness, my inborn succubus charisma kicked in. I became the star of my own personal stage show, bantering and flirting with ease. When combined with the Martin-induced glamour, I became downright irresistible. While this did result in a number of proffered dates and pickup lines, it also saved me from the repercussions of any mistakes. My customers found no wrong with me.

"That's all right, dear," one older woman assured me upon discovering I'd accidentally ordered her a large cinnamon mocha instead of a nonfat, decaf latte. "I really need to branch out into new drinks anyway."

I smiled back winningly, hoping she wasn't diabetic.

Later on, a guy came up carrying a copy of Seth Mortensen's The Glasgow Pact. It was the first sign I'd seen of tonight's momentous event.

"Are you going to the signing?" I asked as I rang up his tea. Bleh. Caffeine-free.

He studied me for a pregnant moment, and I braced myself for a pass.

Instead the guy said mildly, "Yeah, I'll be there."

"Well, make sure you think up good questions for him. Don't ask the same ones everyone else does."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know, the usual. 'Where do you get your ideas from?' and 'Are Cady and O'Neill ever going to get together?' "

The guy considered this as I made change. He was cute, in a disheveled sort of way. He had brown hair with a reddish-gold gleam to it, said gleam being more noticeable in the shadow of facial hair crossing his lower face. I couldn't quite decide if he'd intentionally grown a beard or just forgotten to shave. Whatever it was, it had grown in more or less evenly and, when combined with the Pink Floyd T-shirt he wore, presented the image of a sort of hippie-lumberjack.

"I don't think the 'usual questions' make them any less meaningful to the one doing the asking," he decided at last, seeming shy about contradicting me. "To a fan, each question is new and unique."

He stepped aside so I could wait on another customer. I continued the conversation as I took the next order, unwilling to pass up the opportunity to discuss Seth Mortensen intelligently.

"Forget the fans. What about poor Seth Mortensen? He probably wants to impale himself each time he gets one of those."

" 'Impale' is kind of a strong word, don't you think?"

"Absolutely not. The guy's brilliant. Hearing idiotic questions must bore him to tears."

A bemused smile played across the man's mouth, and his steady brown eyes weighed me carefully. When he realized he was staring so openly, he glanced away, embarrassed. "No. If he's out touring, he cares about his fans. He doesn't mind the repetitive questions."

"He's not out touring for altruism. He's out touring because the publicists at his publishing house are making him tour," I countered. "Which is also a waste of time, by the way."

He dared a look back at me. "Touring is? You don't want to meet him?"

"I - well, yes, of course I do. It's just, that... okay. Look, don't get me wrong. I worship the ground this guy walks on. I'm excited to meet him tonight. I'm dying to meet him tonight. If he wanted to carry me off and make me his love slave, I'd do it, so long as I got advance copies of his books. But this touring thing... it takes time. Time that would be better spent writing the next book. I mean, haven't you seen how long his books take to come out?"

"Yeah. I've noticed."

Just then, a previous customer returned, complaining he'd gotten caramel syrup instead of caramel sauce. Whatever that meant. I offered a few smiles and sweet apologies, and he soon didn't care about the caramel sauce or anything else. By the time he left my register, the Mortensen fan guy was gone too.

When I finally finished my shift around five, Doug came to meet me.

"I heard some interesting things about your performance up here."

"I hear interesting things about your 'performance' all the time, Doug, but you don't hear me making jokes about it."

He bandied with me a bit more and finally released me to get ready for the signing, but not before I'd made him humbly acknowledge how much he owed me for my kindness today. Between him and Hugh, I was accruing favors all over the place.

I practically ran the two blocks home, anxious to grab some dinner and figure out what I wanted to wear. My exhilaration was growing. In an hour or so, I'd be meeting my all-time favorite author. Could life get any better? Humming to myself, I took the stairs two at a time and produced my keys with a flourish that only I noticed or appreciated.

As I opened the door, a hand suddenly grabbed me and pulled me roughly inside, into the darkness of my apartment. I yelped in surprise and fear as I was shoved up against the door, slamming it shut. The lights burst on suddenly and unexpectedly, and the faint smell of sulfur wafted through the air. Although the brightness made me wince, I could see well enough to recognize what was going on.

Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off demon.


Of course, I should clarify at this point that Jerome doesn't look like a demon, at least not in the traditional red skin and horns sense. Maybe he does on another plane of existence, but like Hugh, me, and all the other immortals walking the earth, Jerome wore a human guise now.

One that looked like John Cusack.

Seriously. No joke. The archdemon always claimed he didn't even know who the actor was, but none of us bought that.

" Ow," I said irritably. "Let me go."

Jerome released his grasp, but his dark eyes still glinted dangerously. "You look good," he said after a moment, seeming surprised by the admission.

I tugged at my sweater, straightening it from where his hand had crumpled it. "You have a funny way of showing your admiration."

"Really good," he continued thoughtfully. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you - "

" - shine," murmured a voice behind the demon. "You shine, Daughter of Lilith, like a star in the night sky, like a diamond glittering on the bleakness of eternity."

I started in surprise. Jerome cut a sharp glance to the speaker, not liking his monologue interrupted. I also glared, not liking an uninvited angel in my apartment. Carter only smiled at both of us.

"As I was saying," snapped Jerome, "you look like you've been with a good mortal."

"I did a favor for Hugh."

"So this isn't the start of a new and improved habit?"

"Not on the salary you pay me."

Jerome grunted, but it was all part of a routine between us. He would berate me for not taking my job seriously, I'd give a few witty quips in return, and the status quo would resume. Like I said, I was something of a teacher's pet.

Looking at him now, however, I could see no more jokes would follow. The charm that had so enthralled my customers today had no effect on these two. Jerome's face was drawn and serious, as was Carter's, despite the angel's usual sardonic half-smile.

Jerome and Carter hung out together regularly, especially when alcohol was involved. This baffled me since they were supposedly locked in some sort of great, cosmic struggle. I'd once asked Jerome if Carter was a fallen angel, which had elicited a good laugh from the demon. When he'd recovered from the hilarity, he'd told me no, Carter hadn't fallen. If he had, he wouldn't technically be an angel anymore. I hadn't really found that answer satisfying and finally decided the two must stay together because there was no one else in this area who could relate to an existence stretching back to the beginning of time and creation. All the rest of us lesser immortals had been human at some point before; greater immortals like Jerome and Carter had not. My centuries were a mere blip on their timeline.

Whatever the reasons for his presence now, I didn't like Carter. He wasn't obnoxious like Duane, but he always seemed so smug and supercilious. Maybe it was an angel thing. Carter also had the most bizarre sense of humor I'd ever seen. I could never tell if he was making fun of me or not.

"So what can I do for you boys?" I asked, tossing my purse on the counter. "I've got places to be tonight."

Jerome fixed me with a narrow-eyed look. "I want you to tell me about Duane."

"What? I already did. He's an ass**le."

"Is that why you had him killed?"

"I - what?"

I froze where I'd been sifting through cupboard contents and slowly turned around to look back at the duo, half expecting some joke. Both faces were in earnest, watching me.

"Killed? How... how does that work?"

Tags: Richelle Mead Georgina Kincaid Fantasy
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