Bittersweet seraphim, p.1
Bittersweet Seraphim, Copyright © 2012 by Debra Anastasia
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
10000 North Central Expressway, Dallas, TX 75231
First Omnific eBook edition, November 2012
First Omnific trade paperback edition, November 2012
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
Bittersweet Seraphim / Debra Anastasia – 1st ed
1. Hell—Fiction. 2. Supernatural Romance—Fiction. 3. Devil—Fiction. 4. Angels—Fiction. I. Title
Cover Design by Micha Stone and Amy Brokaw
Interior Book Design by Coreen Montagna
To T, D and J: You are my Heaven.
Eyes of crystal gold
looked inside me
Saw the demon that I am
You just laughed and held my hand
I should have worried you then
A better man would have walked away
but I am weak behind my lies
All I wanted was for you to stay
I would chase the dark across the night
And the sun across the dawn
I would fight all of my demons
But without your hand in mine
I would still be wrong
You’re trapped by your pure heart
And chains that I have made
I will rip this world apart
To put you back where you should have stayed
You would tell me to pray to God
Well I can’t do that
but I’ll have faith in anything
just to get you back
Of all the horrible jobs to be assigned in Hell, coal was the worst. Nero scraped endlessly at the wall and tossed the bits of loosened rock on the flames. His hands felt magnetically attracted to the shovel, nearly impossible to remove, and occasionally blood swirled down his forearms from the constant friction. The ironic part was that if he did manage to let go of the shovel, the fires stayed just as hot. They didn’t really require his little additions at all. Sweat stung his eyes and his muscles ached, but the compulsion to shovel outweighed everything.
Brut and Nero had shoveled coal side by side for eons. Then Brut, a silent and horrible companion, began speaking one day, telling tales of Hell’s minions crawling to Earth. He said that upon touching the soil, minions lost their mandates, their compulsions, and they could just be. In Hell, the Devil saw to it that there was a constant flow of fresh flesh and endless, impossible-to-refuse activities for the damned. As Brut continued to tell his tales, day after day, finding the opportunity to simply be free for a bit became, in a way, its own compulsion.
Working one day (or was it night?) Nero hit the wall with his shovel, but instead of finding solid rock, the blade sunk right through, revealing an open space. At their next respite, Brut and Nero looked through the hole to find a crude tunnel. After that it took them months to explore the passageways that ran like veins through Hell, while still doing their jobs.
When they finally found the one that led to the surface, they had to power through their compulsions and force themselves to crawl through and stand on solid ground. But once they’d done so, the implications were amazing. Minions could be on the surface. All the security measures and traps were rendered useless by this one, perfect escape hatch.
They weren’t the first to get out, but it had been so difficult, there couldn’t have been more than a few others. Brut took off running, wild and free. Nero took deep breaths of the fresh, clean air. The last time he’d seen the stars, his humanity barely made him different from the animals. But now he looked around to see houses, cars, lights…so much had changed.
He was out of Hell. He didn’t know what to do first. He wanted to just lay back and curl his fists in the green grass. He’d crouched to run his fingertips over the soft blades when he saw her. She was playing with a tiny dog, which started growling the minute he saw Nero. The minion curled his lip, and the animal yipped like he’d been bitten.
But she was something. Her brown hair had been basking in the sun and, even in the darkness, bits of sunlight threaded between the strands. Her eyes were brown as well, but ringed in gold. She followed her dog’s line of sight, and then she saw him.
Nero stood, his leather pants and rippled chest marked and burned from the flames in Hell. He couldn’t imagine what she thought of him.
“Who is it?”
She asked the question like she thought he might be intimidated into providing his résumé in response. Instead he walked slowly toward her. The poodle jumped up, and she caught him in a well-practiced move. She watched Nero as he came closer.
“I’ll call the police. They can be here in less than two minutes.”
“I do not seek to injure you, woman.” Nero stepped into a white pool of illumination. The cabin’s lighting offered him a stage. He was still as she assessed him. He watched as the understanding that he wasn’t human reached her eyes.
“Your police?” He said the words as if they were a foreign language. “What will they do? I wish only to breathe fresh air, but your beauty has stopped me from enjoying nature.”
She cleared her throat and brought her poodle closer. “Flattery won’t stop me from calling the authorities.”
“I speak only the truth as I feel it.”
“Well, you better go back to where you came from. Don’t step any closer.”
Nero could tell she was trying to stay angry, but his body—clad only in torn leather pants—had mesmerized her.
“I will not step closer. For you, I will stay here. But I would like to touch your hair and see if the different colors have distinct textures. I would love a cool drink of water, and after that, I will touch my lips to yours in appreciation of your kindness.” He remained fixed as a statue as he spoke.
“You know what? Why can’t a guy like you—wearing all his clothes, for that matter—approach me in a bar? If you said that to me on a Friday night I’d hand you my panties in surrender. Instead you have to be a thing that emerged from the dark of my backyard. My luck sucks.”
She moved slowly and carefully to the side of the cabin, never taking her eyes off of him, and turned a small wheel. A hose puffed up with a rush of liquid, and soon there was a cold, clear stream pouring onto his feet.
He growled at the sight of the water and knelt quickly, dipping his mouth into the stream and lapping it hungrily like an animal.
She sighed and set her poodle down. The nervous canine scampered away as she picked up the hose to demonstrate. “Look. Here, you can pick it up and drink.” She held it to her lips and took a small sip, wiping her mouth when she was done.
He rose and took the hose carefully, not touching he
“You’re smoking.” She took a step back.
He smiled at the cloud of steam around him, and she bit her lip as he sighed and scrubbed his chest. “Can I have your lips now?” he asked suddenly. He let go of the hose, and the stream drenched the leg of her jeans on its way to the ground. When she gasped, he stomped on the green rubber to stop the watery assault.
“Maybe we should know each other’s names?” she shot back, recovering quickly. “And no, of course not. I don’t want to be a slut.”
But he could see her looking at his mouth. “I’m known as Nero. What do you go by?” He pushed his dark hair from his forehead.
“Um, Jenny. I go by Jenny.” Her poodle peeked around the house and barked.
“Your beast is tiny and angry.” He pointed to the shaking poodle.
“Spike’s afraid of everything. But in this case I think he has good sense to be afraid of you. Where do you come from?” She turned and shushed the whimpering dog with an impatient wave.
“So I cannot have your lips?” Nero touched his own.
“I can’t believe I’m going to do this. Fine. If I give you the lips, will you leave?” She stepped closer and stood on her tiptoes. She pursed her lips and pecked him on the mouth.
“Thank you.” Nero smiled his dimpled smile as he looked over his shoulder. How long do I have?
“You know, I’ve found a few things in my backyard—a mole, a crapload of squirrels that steal from my birdfeeder, a baby copperhead snake—but you’re the first thing I’ve kissed.” She threaded her fingers together anxiously.
“When you give me your mouth? That’s kissing? I would like to kiss you again.” Lust put a sparkle in his eyes.
She took a step backward. “Why are you acting so strange? Did you just escape from prison or something?”
“Or something. It’s like a prison. Nothing of beauty is found there. You are beautiful. I’m glad you didn’t kiss the copperhead snake.” Nero’s hands began to shake just a little.
“Are you a drug addict? I just can’t figure you out.” She took another step back.
“It’s better that you don’t.” His voice had longing in it. The shaking grew more pronounced. “May I drink from your hose again, taste a kiss again, if I return?”
She rubbed her face with both hands. “I guess you could drink from the hose. You could do that. The kiss…I’m not so sure. Tell me where you’re from.”
Behind her, Nero caught movement in the shadows. Brut was returning—his whole body shaking as he ran as fast as he could.
“I’m from the worst place, and the compulsion to return? It will overtake me. Do not follow. Never, never follow me, Jenny.” His shaking traveled from his hands to his arms, and he stepped into the dark so the beautiful girl would not see how his mandate controlled him.
“Maybe. Maybe on the kiss, Nero.”
He heard those words as he was claimed by his desire to shovel. His run was not human, but he made time to secure a large rock in front of their exit.
Back at his post, Nero began shoveling quickly to make up for time lost. His muscles groaned as they returned to the job they’d done for so many, many years. He turned to Brut, eager to plan their next outing—he needed to see Jenny again—and for the first time he looked closely at his companion. The minion’s face and arms were covered in blood. The only break in the color was a strong, white smile of pure joy.
Jenny wished she’d never met Nero—never touched his lips, never spoken to him. And then with the next breath she wished she’d kissed him properly, felt his ridiculous biceps. She wished she’d handed him a flower so he could have something beautiful to take with him.
The little conglomeration of rocks that had materialized at the site of his disappearance didn’t seem to include a door. After it had been a few months and Spike had stopped growling at the spot, Jenny poked around. She was drawn to it and often sat there. She read books near it as if it were the grave of a dear friend. Eventually, she planted flowers around the rocks, imagining that Nero would return, drink his water, and see the blooms—if he came in the right season.
But a year passed and Jenny mostly gave up, or that’s what she told herself. And anyway she wasn’t sure if she hoped he wouldn’t come back or that he would. She dated and went out on the town with girlfriends, but at night in her dreams—her spectacular, blood-boiling dreams—she lay with Nero and touched his thick, black hair. His eyes had been so black they were almost glowing.
She finally began to work from home, writing a romance advice column, of all things, and her waiting became an obsession. Building a shed over the site gave her something to do. She told herself she was protecting him by sealing the entrance with a door. Then she told herself she was protecting the world by locking that door to keep things in.
Two years came and went. It was fall when she rose from her bed to get a drink of water, which she always needed after her dreams of him, and peeked in the backyard out of habit. Her shed was glowing orange and red, like it was on fire. She was transfixed watching—scared, hopeful, and scared again. “Nero,” she whispered.
Just then the door blew off, and Jenny flinched. When she looked again, a thing that was not Nero looked back at her with the sick, demented smile of a jack-o-lantern, one carved to scare. Fear climbed over her skin like a swarm of bugs. The thing in front of her was death put on legs, vaguely in the shape of a man. It broke their stare to look over its shoulder. From the shadows Nero walked with purpose and authority, pointing at the thing with what seemed to be angry words.
When the thing scampered away, chastised, Nero looked to her window.
He was back. He was here. Jenny ran downstairs to meet him in the driveway. By the time she got her door open, he was already feasting on the water, letting it run over his face and chest as he gulped.
When he saw her he dropped the hose, and water spilled on the driveway, spreading like clear blood from an open wound. “Jenny. The maybe kiss? May I have the maybe kiss?” He looked from her mouth to her eyes and back. “I’ve been thinking of you, only you, all this time. I didn’t even stop to breathe, just imagining your lips over and over again.”
The fear she should have felt was washed away by his words. She’d been dreaming of this man minutes earlier, and she wanted to go to him—whether or not he was even a man. “I know how you feel. Yes to the maybe kiss. Please.”
Minding her bare feet, she stepped toward him, watching the passion gather in his face. Her long, white nightgown swept through the gathering puddle, and she felt it heavy behind her as she reached him. Her memory was faulty. He was so much more handsome than she’d been allowed to remember. She touched his face, her thumbs outlining his lips before she whispered his name.
He bent and she offered him her lips, sliding a hand into his hair as she gave him his maybe kiss. His whole body tensed as she added her tongue, letting her dreams become reality, in her nightgown on her driveway.
In a rush he gathered her in his arms, hugging her tightly. He gave her a look she should’ve had enough sense to fear, but instead she tipped her head back as he kissed her throat. Nero laid her on the soft grass near the driveway. Then he left her for a moment, and she shivered. He dragged the hose over and let the water cover her. Her white gown became just a hint of a whisper. Her nipples hardened, and their pink bloomed through the now-translucent fabric. And then there was his hot mouth, warming her chilly skin. Nero wet her down completely and with his hands and tongue and lips saw to it that she was thoroughly heated. As the steam rose, its swirling sensations almost stealing Jenny’s humanity, she could only moan and writhe. Through the barrier of the cloth, he pressed against her.
The weight of Nero on top of her was worth the nights without him
Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement, and she had to fight through her pleasure to focus on the spot in the distance. The thing she’d seen first, the horror that had preceded Nero, was standing in her shrubs, watching their passion. She didn’t even think to cover for modesty’s sake as it smiled at her and mouthed, “Want.”
By the time Nero looked where she was pointing, it was gone, disappeared back into the shed. Nero pulled Jenny from the ground and shook his head as he gathered her again.
His embrace was like being wrapped with a towel warm from the dryer. “That thing,” she asked. “What is it?”
Nero’s voice was low and rough. “Brut. He is like I am. A minion. From Hell.”
“You’re nothing like that!” Brut had evil etched in his very essence.
“Let’s not think of him now. Jenny, my maybe kiss was everything I hoped for and then some.” Nero touched her lips and smiled.
His dimples and strong arms almost made her forget. Almost. “Let’s go inside.” Jenny pulled the beast from the center of the earth into her house and into her heart.
Nero walked into Jenny’s cabin and immediately wanted to stay. He never wanted to see another shovel, never wanted to sweat next to Brut again. This woman, this house. It was everything Hell wasn’t.
He turned to look at her again. He had warmed her, but she was still damp. She led him into a room and turned on more water. Water was such a luxury—to drink, to wash in—but putting water on Jenny was so amazing it was painful.
She looked shy as she stepped out of her gown. It fell around her feet like a sopping halo. Blushing, she covered her mouth as he fell to his knees. She was entirely available—to him, of all creatures. He crawled until he could touch her and licked his way up her leg, the skin so very soft. He slid her panties down.