Bittersweet seraphim, p.10
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.10

           Debra Anastasia
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  Violent growled and dragged Dean like a teddy bear as she made her way through the half-breeds, scooping up Rebecca in a swift motion. The minion picked up speed, scarcely burdened by the two adults she carried. Dean struggled and finally looked right at Seriana who yelled, “Don’t worry!” as they disappeared into the trees.

  But she’d never felt as alone as she did watching them leave. Vittorio tucked her under his arm and began ordering his half-breeds around. If Violent hadn’t been physically stronger than Dean, her brother would never have gone. It was a crazy idea, but at least her mother was alive, and now she would be safe. Seriana had one hope left: that her brother would save Emma, and Emma would save her. She started praying immediately.

  Chapter 15

  Kate watched Jack’s back as he walked confidently through Hell in front of her and Jason. She felt less and less sure about her decision to come here. She wanted to save Nero, but the deeper they got, the more unimaginable the task became. There were steel doors, hallways, and caves that Jack navigated easily, but Kate had already lost track of how many turns they’d made.

  Jason counted out loud as Jack made another hard left and parted a bit of moss to step into a secluded cave. “I’m trying to keep up,” he explained. “I think I can get us out of here.” He held the moss for Kate, and when it closed, they were in blackness.

  She reached in the darkness until she found Jason’s hand. He squeezed back gently. He pulled her close when they heard a huge crash and the sound of wood cracking.

  “Jack?” Kate huddled into Jason. Without her sight she was useless.

  “Just getting some fucking supplies. Hold on.” Jack’s voice sounded muffled.

  The flashlight blinded Kate for a minute until the beam was turned toward her feet.

  “Catch, asshole.”

  Jason snatched the end-over-end-flying beam and handed the flashlight to Kate. She instantly felt a bit more comfortable.

  “Here.” Another light launched through the air, and Jason had to let go of Kate to catch it like an overthrown football. It was a lantern, providing a halo of light. Kate could now make out the walls, dark and slimy, and the cracks on the floor.

  Jack emerged from the closet he’d broken into carrying a rifle and a few handguns. He had a strap holding extra ammo across his bare chest, slicing his tattoos in half.

  “You took off your shirt? Who makes time for that?” Jason sounded disgusted.

  Jack made his way back out of the moss covering and into the bigger hallway. “I do, teeny balls. I need some of my minions to recognize me.”

  Jason held out a hand to Kate again, and she took it. With all the testosterone flowing between these two, she decided not to comment, though she did feel a little protective of Jason.

  “Really? Do you identify people by nipples alone in this horrible place?” Jason glared at the back of Jack’s head.

  Kate swallowed a smile, and Jason slid her a glance and a wink.

  Jack spun and faced him. “I could say all kinds of things about how I can identify your ex-girlfriend’s nipples in a lineup, but I won’t because I like to treat her like a lady, now that she’s mine.”

  Jason clenched his jaw and was about to speak when Kate changed her mind about commenting. “Seriously? Ladies, I’ve somewhere to be. Can we stop the pissing contest and do some freaking work here?”

  Jack gave her a onceover. Kate tried to ignore the chills his attention sent through her. “Fine. Though I bet I could pick your nipples out of a lineup as well.” Jack turned to go when Jason dropped the lantern and jumped on him.

  Kate flailed her hands and flashed the light on them as they punched each other. Jason was stronger, but Jack was a dirty fighter. “Stop! Oh, my God! Stop. Damn it. Stop!” She had no idea what to do until she looked down and noticed her boobs. She lifted her pajamas and bared the tank top beneath. “Look! Tits!”

  The men stopped fighting to stare at her. The thin material of her undergarment was more transparent than she’d hoped.

  Jack smiled. “Yup. That’s just what I thought they’d look like.”

  Jason slugged him in the face again.

  Kate put down her shirt and waded in. She was about to hit them with the flashlight when its beam illuminated a person standing just past the shadows. “Holy shit!” Kate tried to voice what she was seeing, but she could only point and wave a hand in the direction of the new being. Jason and Jack followed the light and stilled their frenzied fists.

  The woman smiled as she stepped out of the shadows. Her hair was a huge beehive of spun yellow, and she wore a Little Bo Peep dress. Relief washed over Kate at the sight of this cotton candy cacophony. She seemed harmless enough. Then just as Jack muttered, “Oh, fuck,” the woman turned her hot pink eyes on Kate, and she felt a power and terror unlike anything she’d ever known—which was saying something since she’d been in the presence of minions off and on throughout her life. Her mouth filled with a sweet taste. Too sweet. Crazy sweet. She started to paw at her tongue, trying to eliminate it.

  Jack scrambled up from the ground, pulling Jason behind him. “Tiffany, great to see you.”

  She looked Jack up and down and laughed. It was a terribly pleasing sound. Like bells coated in perfection. She bent at the waist as emotion took her over. Jack took the opportunity to step backward, and soon he and Jason were in front of Kate. She raised her rifle to aim at Tiffany, but Jack grabbed the barrel and eased it down, shaking his head.

  “Save your ammo,” he said, and not in a comforting way, more in a holy-crap-something-worse-is-coming kind of way.

  “Jack! I feel so happy in my happy places to see you.” Tiffany had finally stopped laughing. “You look so…how do I say it? Oh, that’s right. Human.” She took purposeful steps, swinging her hips.

  Jack nodded. “You look sweet. As usual.”

  “This old thing? You were always quick with a flattering word. Still stunning them stupid and spread-eagled with your bad-boy act?” The closer Tiffany came, the more it smelled like the taste in Kate’s mouth.

  “Act? Do you think the Devil is a good man, Tiff?” Jack began unbuckling his belt.

  “You’re not getting in, just so you know. All those years ago? This is called payback. What you want you’ll never get. I’m going to leash you like one of my poodles.”

  Jack continued to undress, tossing his weapons and clothes in a pile next to his feet. He spoke over his shoulder to Kate and Jason. “This pretty lady is full minion. She actually descended into Hell about four hundred years ago, give or take. After her damnation, she was so heinous that I promoted her to protecting the sludge behind her.”

  Tiffany clapped and gestured to a murky pond that was so still it looked like just another length of cave at first glance.

  Jack unzipped his pants and spoke to Jason. “You might want to have Kate close her eyes if you ever want her to sleep with you, asshole. Because once I take off my pants, you’ll always come in second.”

  Kate instantly put out a hand to stop Jason from returning to fisticuffs. Out of the shadows, three huge beasts appeared. The first thing she saw was teeth. After she took in the rest, and they sat at Tiffany’s command, Kate realized the things were poodles. Giant, grotesque poodles.

  Jack was naked now, but Kate didn’t spare a glance for his taut buns. Okay, fine. She did. He spoke to Tiffany, but was obviously filling her and Jason in on the details they might need to know.

  “Well, Tiffany, pond still disgusting? I’m guessing Everett doesn’t know about the potential here?” Jack stepped forward.

  Tiffany held up a ringed hand, and the poodles growled in unison. “No closer. You know what the water does. The new Devil knows about everything. He’s fantastic. Ten times better in bed than you.”

  Jack shook his head and took a few more steps toward the pond. The poodles went from sitting to standing. Their dark gray fur must’ve been white at some point, but it just hung in dirty clumps and knots now.

  “Lady, you c
an spout whatever you need to if it makes you feel better about letting me fuck you and toss you into the Hellfires, but you and I both know that’s a lie.” Jack sauntered closer to her, and Kate watched Tiffany’s hot pink eyes dilate with arousal. She wanted him. The dogs hunkered down and bared their teeth.

  “You had me,” Jack said, his voice intoxicating. “And I certainly had you. You remember it with every fiber of your being. If you could dream, I’d be all you saw. And of course, when you touch yourself, you picture me.” Jack finally pulled her against his naked body.

  Jason looked at Kate and mouthed, “Wanna go?”

  And she did. She wanted to leave Jack to his horrible romancing and steroidal poodles, but the fact that the pond was so well guarded had her curious. And the fact that Jack wanted in it meant something. She shook her head. Jason didn’t seem to like that, but he stood fast.

  “I remember it only to make me angry. You meant nothing.” The thinly veiled lust in Tiffany’s eyes belied her words.

  Jack lifted his hand and ran it down her cheek. “Liar.”

  The poodles stepped closer.

  “Care for a swim, Tiffany? I can give you exactly what I gave you four hundred years ago. Interested?” He spoke the words against her lips.

  The poodles were completely fixated on the couple and furious with the man who had their owner in an embrace. Kate had a clean line to the pond. She had no idea what it might do to her, but she ran as fast as possible. As she whizzed by the nearest poodle, it turned and snapped its jaws at her. Jason was shouting, and his words soon combined with Jack’s. None of them wanted her to get in the water. A bit wary herself, she’d only planned to wade in, but with the poodle and everyone else now hot on her trail, Kate dove straight into a pitch black pond in the center of Hell.

  Chapter 16

  Everett tried to settle himself in Jack’s lair. My lair, he amended. He hated how much he didn’t fit this place. It was like putting on someone else’s well-worn shoes. No matter how they looked, they just didn’t adapt to the foot properly. They were always uncomfortable. Just like her. Emma. She was his worst obsession. He’d followed her from Earth to Heaven and now, to Hell. She was right. He had other things he should be doing, must be doing, but it all paled compared to getting to her. He kicked a stray bottle, and it landed far away, smashing into shards. He was the second-most powerful force in existence now, after God. Or at least he thought so. While he taunted Emma about the lack of her perfect Lord, Everett was starting to think she was protected after all.

  It’d been too easy. He’d never tell her that, but his rise to Devil was a farce, a joke. All these minions should’ve fought him for the position, but instead they set their weapons down and kneeled. At first it fed right into his monster ego. Then it became obvious he was a joke to them. Only a few would follow his orders implicitly. Most took quite a bit of harassing and nagging. There was a backlog of damned people floating just beyond his chamber door. Supposedly Jack had dealt with and sorted them, but Everett just didn’t have time. The only thing that made any sense at all was that his tenure here in Hell wasn’t supposed to be very long.

  There was a knock on his door. He deepened his voice and admitted the visitor with a grumble.

  “Sir? There’s been a breach. Somehow things from the surface are entering Hell.”

  She was a gorgeous woman—legs, tight ass, all the things Everett liked. Her eyes were like foggy crystal balls. In his first few hours as Devil he’d tried to force himself on her, and she’d smiled instead of protesting. He’d found out why when he dropped his pants. His ball sack had frozen solid, and it had stayed that way long after he’d dismissed her, having had no sex at all. His piss had come out like liquid nitrogen for what felt like a million years. When he finally had sensation back and his pee was a normal consistency—except for the occasional ice cube he had to painfully pass—he vowed never to touch her again. Her name was Snow, which might’ve given him a heads up if he’d bothered to learn it before exposing himself to her.

  He touched his man parts now in her presence because he couldn’t help himself. “So? Why do I give a shit?”

  She looked annoyed. “Simple job requirement, sir. You need to keep Hell and Earth separate.”

  “Screw that. I’ll run my Hell the way I want to. If things get in? Eat them, flame them, I don’t care. Leave me to my thoughts.” He waved a hand at her.

  “Very well.” Snow turned to leave. Her “very well” was easily interpreted as “Wrong choice, ass-packing dipshit.”

  “What? What? Can you just tell me what’s going on?” Everett begged. “I hate trying to pay attention to the nuances.” He sat in one of Jack’s lounge chairs.

  She faced him and looked at his nuts through his pants. They prickled painfully. “Okay. You let things into Hell, things get out of Hell. Earth becomes overwhelmed and decimated. That ends the trial period. Heaven wins. You better man up and quick.”

  Everett rolled his eyes. “None of what you said has moved me to do anything other than fart.” He accompanied his words with his ass’s soundtrack.

  “You are sharp as a spoon, sir.” She walked to the center of the room and snapped her fingers. “Smoke! Here, smoke. Come on, be a good pet.”

  Everett waited for a dog or something, but the pet she wanted was atmospheric. Actual smoke came to her call and surrounded her like a blanket. He could hear her whispering to it. Things just kept getting worse. He’d long wondered about the blob of smoke that had occasionally appeared out of nowhere to nip angrily at his heels. Now it was helping Snow.

  Soon there was a screen, and Snow sat down in an adjacent chair. “Watch this.”

  The screen flickered to life, showing photographs of a time long ago. God and a shady-looking character walked together on what seemed to be Earth.

  “Lucifer was an archangel. Eventually he moved against God and tried to have Heaven and the power it gives all to himself.” She gave him a snide look. “Sound familiar?” The screen changed to show Heavenly Court, with God in His proper chair and Lucifer standing in front of him, awaiting judgment. “They’d been good friends, so God really tried to get Lucifer to understand that all the power of Heaven was not a gift, but more of a curse. He explained that the burdens on his soul from his children’s cries were far more damning than any Hellfire could ever be.”

  She was lost in the tale now, and Everett leaned forward as she recited God and Lucifer’s age-old conversation: “I created them. Don’t you understand? Sweet Lucifer, I’d love to pass the burden to someone else—even for a moment, even to you. But what you create, you must represent. I offer you a world with tremendous responsibility. Take care of the damned, take care of my children who attempted the tasks of life and failed. By squandering the gift of free will, they cheated themselves, and yet I still love them. If you choose Hell, you must keep my children fairly and punish them with a righteous hand.”

  Snow held her hands together in what seemed like a prayer. “Lucifer said, ‘What else? If I don’t take this offer, what else is there?’” The picture shifted to show a being clearly defiant, but with a hint of sadness. Lucifer had seemed to love God as well.

  “Two options, Lucifer. Go to Earth and start fresh, start as a babe. Or I can end you. I can put you out of your misery if you find that being yourself is too much to bear.”

  Snow stood and gently touched the screen. The smoke rippled a bit before solidifying again. “He couldn’t do it. Lucifer didn’t have the guts to try life again. Nor did he want to be ended. So Hell became his playground—or so he thought. The Dark Prince soon found that doing his job, taking care of God’s damned children, was a burden. Every decision he made or didn’t make had far-reaching consequences.”

  Everett was getting bored, and his balls were getting scared. They’d crawled into him like frightened woodland creatures. “So? So what. Lucifer isn’t here. I’m the Devil. He must have blown his big, longsuffering motherload.”

  “He transferred
most of powers to whomever was appointed Devil or fought their way to the top of the heap, like you,” she said, looking him in the eyes.

  “So where is he?” Everett stood and walked to the door, silently willing Snow to leave.

  “He’s at the bottom of a pond, protected by an evil shrew. He doesn’t want to be bothered.” Snow strolled to the door, and the smoke dissipated behind her.

  Everett held out an arm to stop her. “So what do you think he’d have done? I mean, how does Heaven win? I don’t get it.”

  “Lucifer? He would have had a few minions patrolling the perimeters. Jack would’ve as well. If we can’t keep up our end of Lucifer’s bargain, God’s done giving Lucifer a chance to prove himself.” Snow touched his arm, and he quickly moved it.

  “So we’re done too then? No more Hell? Just…gone?” Everett weighed the options. Being gone didn’t seem frightening.

  “No, that’d be too simple. You see, Lucifer was a bargaining man. He liked to bet God for souls, and eventually we wound up with a winner take all: If Hell fails, we become nothing, but we’ll always be aware, awake—never gone, just never here. I’m pretty sure we’d be located at the ass end of snails, our awareness and existence spread with their slime. That could be just a rumor, though. You know, people talk and stuff.” She waltzed past him mumbling about how Jack would’ve been shutting this place down as she turned a corner and was out of his sight.

  Everett leaned against the doorjamb and wondered. If he was just a substitute Devil, and the real Lucifer was an ice cube in a pond somewhere, perhaps he could convince him to give him more power so he could get to Emma. Everett left Jack’s lair in search of a knowledgeable minion that might be willing to take him to Lucifer’s resting place.

  Emma was still rubbing her hand as the pretty minion passed by, coming from the direction of Jack’s lair. The woman had cloudy white eyes, but they didn’t seem to be sightless.

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