Bittersweet seraphim, p.12
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.12

           Debra Anastasia
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  Kate pulled him forward. “Doesn’t matter. We need to head this way.” She looked over her shoulder. “Good luck, super sucker!”

  Jack squeegeed the slime from his hair with his hands. “Fine. Leave. As soon as I get Emma, I’ll find you two. Try to keep Kate out of trouble, asshole.”

  Jason stopped Kate one more time so he could retort, “I’m not done kicking your ass.”

  Jack gave him a dismissive flick of his hand. “Whatever.”

  Kate yanked on his arm, and he was stunned by her strength. He kept her hand tight in his. She seemed to know where she was going. He was so damn grateful she was out of the pond.

  “So did you see a map down there?” His head spun with testosterone, concern, and confusion. She’d gone into the pond one way and seemed to have come out another.

  She pulled him through the dark with no light to aid her. When they were in complete blackness and the noises of Tiffany’s poodles and Jack’s grumbling were absent, she stopped him with a hand on his chest.

  Her voice sounded vibrant and fearless. “I met the real Lucifer down there. Turns out Jack and that Everett guy just run the joint while Lucifer hides in his hole. They’re like the night managers or something. I was going to spend the rest of my existence as Lucifer’s footstool, but Jack goaded him into giving us a chance to stop the end of Hell.”

  Jason’s eyes adjusted. He could make out her profile.

  “Eventually, Jack and I had to kiss Lucifer and swim out. I think I have some extra power. I’m guessing that’s why Tiffany kneeled? A little diluted Lucifer? But I’m thinking…maybe…well…”

  Jason tried to keep up. He had a million questions, but they didn’t seem to have too much time left, so he asked just one. “Do you want me to kiss you?”

  “Yeah…sort of. Maybe you could get a dose? I figure Lucifer’s germs have to be worse than a cold sore. Maybe the power’s contagious?” She shifted her weight and Jason heard a plop of slime hit the rock floor.

  He’d been praying for an opportunity like this, and although his memory was shot, he knew Kate’s lips would be perfection. He pulled her hard against his chest. He could only make out her shadow, so he pushed his face in her direction just as she leaned in as well. They bonked heads. Both reeled and held their foreheads. Great job. Real smooth.

  Kate recovered quickly and felt up his chest to his face. “Don’t move.”

  She found his cheeks and leaned in for a sweet peck. She missed his mouth and kissed his chin. Jason started a soft chuckle, inhaling just as Kate found his lips. The small, chaste kiss was over before it started, but the power hit like a lightning bolt. His whole spine quivered. A wave from his toes to his chest to the top of his head filled him with a hot-and-cold explosion. He moaned softly.

  “Did it work?”

  He could picture her trying to gauge his response in the dark. He turned his palms toward her, and they began to glow. He could see her now in a hazy blue light. As he ran them near her skin he warmed her. He mentally pictured her in jeans and a T-shirt. Dry. Her hair bounced and curled as the slime disappeared.

  “It worked! Check it out, you’re a flashlight. And a clothes dryer!” She ran her hands appreciatively down her body, snuggling in the warmth.

  Jason got a little Lucifer, a little Kate, and, as he lowered his lids seductively he realized, a little bit of that bastard Jack. He reached for her and pressed her against him. He came in for a kiss with the carnal need of a predator. Kate was wide eyed with surprise and then willing, letting him gather her intimately. Jason bit her bottom lip, licking as he went. He kissed her deeply, an exchange of passion and power. Electric. They both began to glow.

  Kate pushed away and wiped her brow. “Wow. That’s a kiss for you.”

  Jason ran a hand behind his neck. “Seriously. I could do that all day. Thank you.”

  She smiled at him. “Always so polite?”

  He held out a hand, knowing they were headed for Nero, understanding Kate’s internal compass now. “Only with those who deserve it.”

  They smiled at each other in their self-created light, looking to save a minion from Hell before the place died around them.

  Tiffany popped off of her knees to go ballistic on Jack. “How dare you? First, you were the one who told me no one gets in the pond. Then you go in? Lucifer? All this time I’ve been guarding the first-ever Devil? Why wouldn’t you tell me?”

  Jack unbuttoned his shirt and let it drop in a sopping heap. He proceeded to undress near his dry pile of clothes. “Tiff, if you knew what you were guarding, you’d have jumped in.”

  She hopped from one foot to another. Her dogs rose from their Kate-induced stupor. “You’re damn right I would. And then maybe I’d get my dogs and I—”

  “And then you’d still be down there if you made it at all. Who’d take care of the poodles? You know they’d have been eaten by the dragon.”

  She hemmed and hawed as Jack finished dressing and tied his hair back with a leather tie. “Listen. I’ve done the best I can. That new guy? He’s trashing the place.” While he spoke, Jack approached the giant poodles. They growled but didn’t snap. When he placed his hand on the first, it was instantly white and groomed, smelling of shampoo. The next poodle shied away, but Jack calmed it like a nervous horse. Then he laid his hands on its chest. It was a girl, so its fur went from dingy gray to hot pink. Jack winked at Tiffany. “To match your eyes.”

  She went from one to the other. “They look amazing. It feels like forever since they’ve been clean. Ever since you left they’ve been so dirty.”

  The last poodle held out its massive paw for a shake. Jack braced himself and caught it. The final poodle blossomed into a ruby red color, studded with sparkling gems. He dodged its giant tongue trying to show him canine love.

  “All right, Tiffany. Take the poodles and go somewhere else until I’m in charge again.” Jack nodded toward the cave close by.

  She didn’t move. He took her reluctance as resistance.

  “We’re, like, hours at best from Hell changing,” he told her. “You know the rumor? That we’ll become awareness with no corporeal body? Well, it’s not a myth. You’ll be separated from the dogs. None of us will be anything other than a tortured presence, even more than you are now.” Jack readied himself for her blows, not sure how much power he’d gleaned from Lucifer.

  She didn’t attack, she just stared. “It was you. All this time. You’ve kept my dogs groomed.”

  Jack shrugged. He’d made sure her dogs had the best life Hell could provide. It wasn’t great, but it was as much as he could muster. “Forget it. It was nothing. Just get out of here.” He pointed the direction he wanted her to go.

  “No.” Her hair wobbled in its tower over her head. “My job is to protect the pond. I’ll be doing it. And my dogs will help me. Nothing’ll get past us.” She stood tall, eyes blazing. “It’s the least I can do.”

  Jack couldn’t waste any more time. He had at least a chance at saving Emma now. He nodded at this ridiculous minion and her fluffy dogs. Hopefully her loyalty was a premonition of more to come. Jack certainly couldn’t defeat Everett alone, and he wouldn’t have time to connect this way with all his minions.

  With one last look at Tiffany, he trotted off on the most direct path to his old lair.

  Chapter 19

  Everett had to torture four minions to find the way to the pond. Snow had been vague, and when he saw her again, she too would pay. His had been a meandering trip through countless side tunnels before he could finally see the pond, barely rippling behind another minion and her three giant poodles.

  He scoffed as he approached. The poodles set to growling, and they were so large the ground beneath his feet rumbled. “Enough!” he yelled. He tossed pain in their direction, and each dog yelped and whimpered. The flouncy pink minion set her legs shoulder-width apart and rolled her head on her neck. She looked like a fighter.

  “Step aside. I’m getting in.” Everett strode toward her and to
ssed another wave of pain at the dogs. “Shut them up. Do you know who I am?”

  She nodded but remained waiting, looking ready to fight.

  “Where’s the respect? Jack let this shithole fester into a cesspool. When I speak, you will kneel. Now!” Everett had finally reached her. He was taller and stood over her, but she held fast.

  He tried again. “Now!” Her knees wobbled a bit, but instead of showing submission, she pulled a sword from behind her back. He figured out what it was just as the cold metal slid through his stomach. He fell to his knees, pain his only emotion.

  The crazy, pink-eyed minion screamed at him, furious. “You never groomed my poodles!”

  Things began to get hazy as the poodles closed in, their hot breath searing his skin. The bitch’s blade must have been infused with some sort of poison. He had a brief flashback to all the animals he’d tortured when he was human, and he wondered if being disemboweled by giant, stupid poodles was some kind of karma…Then everything went black.

  Everett came to just as the first poodle attacked his leg with its viciously sharp teeth. He hated pain, not to mention weakness. What was the problem here? He was the Devil, for fuck’s sake. He focused all his power into his foot and lashed out. The giant poodle tumbled backward in a horrible flurry of flailing limbs. That was more like it. Everett sat up as the pink minion rained blows on his head. He swatted her away like a fly. She’d seriously pissed him off. He pulled the blade from his stomach and pinned her foot to the ground with it. She screamed, her mouth so wide he stuck his fist in it to shut her up.

  With his free hand he slapped at the two remaining poodles until they cowered. They still growled but seemed to understand Everett was the top of the pack. The third finally pulled itself to its feet and slunk over next to the others.

  Everett turned his attention to the minion and removed his fist. “Name?”

  She hissed at him, and he punched her in the face, her spittle mingling with her blood. She sprawled, but remained close because her foot was stapled to the floor.

  Everett grabbed her by the yellow hair and dragged her to her knees. “Name?”

  She spit on his pants.

  Everett pulled the blade free and backhanded her. He grabbed the nearest poodle and slit its throat. The dog tried to fight, but its lifeblood poured from the wound, and soon it was gone.

  The minion wailed in horror. “No! No!”

  Everett gave her a half smile. His body had repaired itself. He could do this all day—with pleasure. He walked to the next dog.

  “Tiffany! My name is Tiffany. No, please, no. My dogs are everything.” She crawled on her knees in his direction. His dick started paying attention.

  “See, Tiffster? Was that so goddamn hard? If you’d told me right off the bat, you’d still have this heap of shit-making fur.” He waited as she dragged herself to him, her foot leaving a trail of blood that eventually mingled with her dog’s. He took a deep breath. He loved the scent of fresh blood.

  “Now, let’s make this easier. You tell me how to get to Lucifer, and I’ll let the rest of your flea bags live.” He watched as wariness crept into her eyes. She was having second thoughts. He leaned down close to her face so they were eye to eye. “Do I need to make you cry some more, Tiffany? I will.” He put the blade under her chin and lifted her face.

  Her eyes were wild. “My mandate is to protect this pond. By doing so, I’m following the Devil’s orders. No need to hurt the puppies.” Her gaze darted to the dead dog.

  “You want that one back? I’ll bring it back for you. No worries. Whose orders? Jack’s? Lucifer’s?” Everett took to one knee like he might be proposing.

  “Jack’s. Please, my dogs did nothing wrong. They do Hell a service. You need them.” Tiffany dared to reach out and touch his bended knee.

  Jack’s name lit Everett’s fuse, and he was furious all over again, “Why do people listen to that fuck nugget? He’s gone. He left. I’m here. Best to bow to the power in front of you, not the power that’s long dead.” Everett stood.

  Tiffany said nothing.

  “Show me how to get to Lucifer. He and I need a chat.” Everett pulled her to her feet by her hair. The remaining dogs growled. “Shut them up, or I swear to evil I—”

  “Shh.” With a calm voice and a quick hand signal, the dogs were quiet and remained crouched. “All you have to do is get in the pond.”

  She would suck at poker. The obvious lie was a ploy.

  “You first.” He waited.

  She shook her head. “Only true power can enter the pond.”

  He liked that, but it still felt like a horrible lie. He pushed her toward the dark water. She began to fight, but he managed to get her injured foot in. Nothing spectacular happened. He pulled her to him. She would only look at his chin.

  “You’re not being truthful. You’re the shittiest guardian I’ve ever seen. Your weakness is so obvious. Why would you and these mutts ever be in charge of Lucifer?” He grasped her jaw and forced her to look at him.

  Pride filled her eyes as she answered him. “You’re the Devil. Everything here is weaker than you. This is your world, and I’m just a minion in it. But I protect this pond from everything else.”

  “That’s right. I run this joint. So tell me what the Hell is going on in that pond.” Everett pointed with his pinkie.

  She shook her head. “You can’t get in there. He’ll kill you and replace you. He’s in a pissy mood.” She shrugged, and her poodles whined.

  “Everyone keeps keeping things from me. First Emma. Now this. I just want what I want when I want it.” He shook Tiffany, enjoying the sound of her teeth rattling.

  “Emma? The angel? She’s still trapped in the cage?” Tiffany managed to ask questions despite the rough treatment.

  Everett stilled. “Yeah. You know something about that?”

  “I know Jack programmed the cage, and everyone was super impressed with it. Best trap ever, so they say.” Tiffany winced and stood on one leg. Her foot had stopped bleeding.

  “Do you know the code?” Everett was almost salivating.

  “Well, they say the code is something a person can never do in Hell. So maybe see the sun? Or in your case, maintain an erection?”

  Everett’s inquisitiveness melted into his anger. “Is that all you know?”

  She nodded. But he had to be sure. Everett could only think of one lie detector: pain.

  He smiled an evil smile at Tiffany before he jabbed the sword into her other foot. Her screams made his soul bubble with happiness.

  Chapter 20

  Seriana hated everything about the half-breeds around her: the way they moved, the way they grunted, but most importantly, the way they hunted. In just the hour she’d been traveling with them, four people had lost their lives. They did it with such reckless abandon, treating the humans like free candy at Mardi Gras.

  And Vittorio was within an arm’s reach at all times. When he wasn’t shouting orders to the members of his army he was able to pry away from the gaping hole to Hell, he was whispering, encouraging evil. “So long I’ve waited,” he rambled. “I wanted your brothers as well. I’ll get them, though. I’d love to breed Violent too. The pure blood would work wonders on some of these diluted descendants. I bet if she mates with Dean, that offspring would be perfection. I must find them. First things first. I need to get you to the pen and notify them to ready the stud I’ve chosen now that you’ve been found.” Vittorio gave her a look that felt like a complete genetic assessment.

  “Clearly this is meant to be,” he added, practically dancing with delight. “You’re already in heat! Soon I’ll lock him in with you. His temperament is fantastic,” he continued like some sort of perverse matchmaker. “There was a bit of inbreeding so his manhood is overlarge, and he enjoys killing so much—not one care for society’s perceived restrictions. I’ve kept him from any sexual conquests. He’s not even allowed to pleasure himself. When he comes at you, I think his sperm will be carrying spears.” Vittorio
chuckled at his joke and grabbed Seriana’s chin, stopping her in her tracks. “Your breeding will be the best ticket in town! I’ve already got a website up. Thousands’ll watch you mate and whelp. Your screams of pain will be the cries that rally my armies!”

  Seriana pulled her face from his hands. It was worth it. It was worth it. Mother is alive. Mother is alive. Despite her internal pep talk, tears rolled down her face. In all these years, she’d never been with a man. Now she’d be with one no better than a beast in front of countless strangers.

  When Violent finally set Dean and Rebecca down, they were miles from Hell’s gaping, open mouth. Dean had struggled the whole way while Rebecca wept softly. Now he gathered his mother in his arms. She clutched his shirt with a weak hand. “Son.”

  He pulled her to the ground, cradling her. Violent paced, agitated.

  “Mother.” She looked awful. Being alive all these years at the mercy of Vittorio was obviously worse than dying.

  “Where’s Jason? Seriana—we’ve got to get to her.” She began crying again.

  Violent pulled Dean’s hair until he looked at her. “My kiss? With tongue?” She puckered up.

  Anger coursed through him. He pried his mother’s hands from his and stood. Dean stepped into Violent’s space, and her lips parted.

  He grabbed her hair and pulled her mouth to his. He filled her demonic mouth with all his hopeless anger. He grabbed her ass and forced his tongue into her, blocking out the horror that in a remote way, he was related to this dreadful thing.

  She melted in his arms, almost boneless. He reflexively held her weight until he felt his kiss was thoroughly done. Then he released her, and she fell unceremoniously on the ground. He turned back to his mother, who appeared to be drifting away in her weakness.

  Violent hugged her knees with one arm and touched her lips. “It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same.”

  Dean was too angry to mince words. “Of course not. He’s dead, Violent. There’s no substitute for that.”

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