A job from hell, p.1
A JOB FROM HELL
Ancient Legends Book One
©Copyright 2011 Jayde Scott
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance between the characters and persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Discover other titles by Jayde Scott
Beelzebub Girl: Dating a demon (Ancient Legends Book Two)
The Divorce Club
To Twinschi, Silver and Tabby
You taught me the true meaning of love…
My gratitude goes to F. for the inspiration. You're my rock.
A huge thank you to my editor who drove me bonkers with al the crazy talk about body language.
Thank you to my critique partners, and in particular Christine who came up with plenty of witty lines.
And of course, a huge thanks to al my wonderful readers.
It's said people can sense their imminent death. Maybe they hear death's song in the wind. Or the earth stops turning for a second, mourning those who are yet to pass. I spotted none of the signs when I dragged my tired body through the otherworld, waiting for the winged demon guardians to pick me up and drop me back on the threshold to the world of the living.
It was a shiny object, beckoning to me from under a bush, that lured me into the kil er's trap. As I bent down and pushed my arm into the thicket, a sharp pain pierced my skin and teeth cut into my bone. I choked on my breath, my scream barely finding its way out of my throat. Panic rose inside me, fol owed by a sense of dread. I was trapped. Even if the immortals heard me, they couldn't help me.
Blinded by fear, I pul ed and kicked at the snarling creature peering out of the ground, al skin and bones and red, tangled hair. She was female, no doubt, but the way she tore through skin and muscles, slurping my blood, resembled no human being.
Somewhere behind me, wings fluttered.
"Get the fire demons, Octavius. Turn that thing into burned toast," someone yel ed. In spite of my panic, I smiled as I recognised Cass's voice inside my head.
Fire engulfed us, bathing the semi-darkness in a fiery glow. The creature screeched, but didn't let go of my aching arm. If not even Cass's angels and demons could scare it, nothing would.
My vision blurred, my strength waning. I could feel my blood pouring out of me in a long, constant flow until I thought I was floating. From the edge of my consciousness, I realised a black, winged demon had appeared by my side. A thick flame scorched my skin. I cried out in pain, the scream hurting my ears. My eyes rol ed back in their sockets. The creature hissed, the slurping continued.
Something caressed my cheeks, its touch light as a feather. My breath came shal ow, and my heart slowed down in my chest. I hung onto consciousness until I realised the stabbing pain was subsiding, so I let myself fal into oblivion, eager to escape.
But I gather I'm not making much sense, so I shal start from the beginning. This is how I entered Aidan's deadly, paranormal world.
The cab came to a screeching halt. I lurched forward in the backseat and dropped the phone I'd been fumbling with in the hope to get through to my brother.
"I thought only London had a reputation for bad drivers," I muttered.
"Ye'l have to get out now," the driver said.
"I'm sorry, what?" I glanced out the window at the dense trees to both sides of the forsaken road, then back at the driver. Surely, this wasn't where I had asked him to take me?
"I said, ye need to get out now, lassie."
I stuffed my cel phone back into my over-spil ing handbag and glared at the man's hooded eyes in the rear-view mirror. "I'm paying you to take me al the way up there." I pointed up the winding country lane.
The driver shrugged. "I'm 'fraid I can't, lass. 'Tis too dark now and I don't want to be here at this time of day."
I cringed at his Scottish accent. I didn't understand half of what he said. "It's only seven."
He shrugged. "'Tis al dark."
"What's the deal? Do cab drivers turn into pumpkins once it's dusk? You should've told me at the airport."
The driver averted his gaze. "Ye're paying me for driving, not answering questions."
Grabbing my handbag I opened the door. No point in arguing with him because it seemed like a lost cause already. A chil y wind ruffled my hair and turned my skin into goose bumps. This was freezing Scotland. Why hadn't I thought of wearing a coat instead of locking it up with al the other stuff? "Oh, for crying out loud." I knocked on the driver's window and waited for him to rol it down. "Are you helping with the luggage or what?" He just stared back at me and shrugged. "What is it then, yes or no?" He turned away, his eyes scanning the forest around us as if he expected someone with an axe to jump out any minute.
"I don't believe this," I mumbled, opening the car boot and pul ing out my suitcase, a big, ugly thing my brother Dal as gave me as a graduation gift. The thick plastic carcass was already heavy as hel . With my clothes and books in there, I could barely lift it. I hurled it up and let it fal to the ground with a loud thud, almost hitting my booted feet. This wasn't my day.
Slamming the door shut, I grabbed the suitcase when the driver rol ed down his window. "Ye paying now?"
"I don't know what kind of taxi rip off you're pul ing, but your company sucks." I opened my handbag and pul ed out my wal et.
"That'd be thirty," he said, unfazed.
"You said it'd cost me twenty."
He shook his head. "It's thirty."
Frowning, I retrieved three banknotes. No point in arguing. The sooner I got going, the better. I was already late, and what sort of first impression is that? "You won't be getting any tip from me," I said, handing him the money.
"Good luck, lass. Ye'l need it."
"How far from here is it?"
"Ten minutes tops," he said with a sympathetic smile. Unfortunately, his concern didn't stretch out as far as not dumping me in the middle of nowhere with no map, GPS system, compass, or working phone.
I watched the cab turn and speed off in the direction we came from. Dragging my heavy suitcase behind me, I trudged up the narrow street. It was getting dark now. To both sides, tal trees filtered the light cast by the rising moon. No houses as far as I could see. No street lamp. Why the hel did I agree to arrive in the evening? What person in their right mind arranged for a summer temp to find this place at night anyway?
Sighing, I quickened my pace; the sound of the suitcase rol ers echoing through the eerie silence of the night. Several times I stumbled over stones and almost fel , but I kept walking up the hil . The wind grew colder by the minute. I switched arms. No way would I return to the airport. This job was my only chance to save up enough money for col ege. Without it, I'd swap marketing classes for lessons in how to prepare the perfect cheeseburger at the local McDonald's.
Ten minutes later, I nearly bumped into what looked like a gate. I peered through the iron bars into the stretching darkness, and frowned. Could this be the McAl ister mansion? I hoped so because my toes felt numb from the cold and my arms were on fire. How much longer could I carry this heavy thing Dal as cal ed a suitcase?
Blindly, I moved from one iron bar to the next, pushing to find an entrance. On the third try I heard a click and the gate opened. I grabbed my suitcase and pushed my way through quickly. Like on cue, the gate closed behind me. Someone was probably watching behind a security system screen, laughing their pants off at the way I had to drag my luggage like a dead elephant. I raised my chin a notch, straightened my shoulders and trekked up the jagged path, my heels clicking noisily on the cobblestones.
The trees grew sparser, the path wider. Sensing someone's presence, I stopped, frozen to the spot. My heart skipped a beat. I turned, ready
"You must be Amber," a girl said.
I exhaled. "You scared the hel out of me. I didn't hear you. Where did you come from?"
The girl moved a step closer and lifted my suitcase in one go, as though it weighed nothing. "The woods," she said. "Let's hurry. He's expecting you."
I gaped after her in awe. The way she ambled away, my suitcase tucked under her arm, she should be on the front cover of Weightlifter Magazine. If hiking in the woods gave one that kind of strength, then I was al for it. I'd hike until I dropped...starting tomorrow. Or maybe the next day, or the one after that. Truth be told, I wasn't into hiking in the woods at al . Or hiking anywhere, as a matter of fact. Who was I fooling? I was doomed with chubby arms and stumpy legs.
We walked up the cobbled path until we reached a huge, gloomy mansion stretching against the black canvas of the night.
"How did you get here?" the girl asked, opening a door.
"Your splendid taxi service. I've no complaints at al ." I shook my head. "The cabbie wouldn't come anywhere near the house."
"Yeah, the locals are scared of their own shadows. You should've cal ed. Someone would've picked you up."
"I did, but no one answered." I fol owed her in, my hands patting the wal s to find my way in the darkness. My foot caught in something thick and soft—maybe a rug—and I toppled forward, biting my tongue to keep back a startled yelp. Why wouldn't someone just switch on the lights?
"Mind your steps," the girl said.
"It's okay. I'l just use my bat radar," I mumbled.
The girl made a noise that sounded like a chuckle. Eventual y the lights flickered on and I squinted against the sudden brightness. I blinked several times before I peered in her direction: she was about the same age, tal , blonde and strikingly beautiful with flawless pale skin and ocean-blue eyes that shone a tad too bright. Skinny jeans emphasised her shapely legs and narrow waist. A thin top revealed strong arms and shoulders.
Dressed in that skimpy outfit I would've frozen to death in the woods.
I turned away from her, focusing my attention on the interior design. We were standing in a wide hal with a tiled floor, a thick scarlet rug and sparse furniture. It looked like any doctor's reception area minus the desk, sitting opportunities and white-clad nurses.
"I'm Clare. You must be Amber," the girl said, smiling. Her voice was as smooth as silk, young but not too high-pitched. The tone was posh. The usual rich kid, I mused, the kind of girl everyone admired and envied.
"Nice to meet you, Clare," I said, curling my lips into a smile.
Clare turned toward a closed mahogany door and craned her neck. "Aidan might take a little longer. I'l show you to your room."
I frowned. "Aidan?"
Clare cocked a brow. "As in Aidan McAl ister. He's dying to meet you."
"Ah. My new boss. Of course. Is he your father?"
Clare shot me an incredulous look. What was she waiting for? Was I supposed to say something? I wasn't making a good first impression here, was I? I should've researched my new boss on the internet, or fol ow him on Twitter to find out how he liked his bed sheets ironed and what he usual y ate for breakfast. After al , this would be my job for the next two months. But I had been too busy missing my ex while letting Dal as fil out my application form.
"Aidan's a friend," Clare said, eventual y. "Come on."
A friend could mean anything, but I didn't press the issue. There'd be enough time for that later. We climbed up the broad stairs to the first floor.
Clare opened a door and let me in. She switched on the light and took a step aside. "Welcome to your new home."
I stopped, scanning my new bedroom. It was spacious, the exact opposite of my former matchbox boarding school room in London. Thick plum-coloured curtains covered half of the opposite wal . To my right was a huge, four-poster bed with numerous cushions in the same colour as the curtains. The bed was so large it'd never fit into my former bedroom. If this was the Scottish standard I had a feeling I'd get used to it in a heartbeat.
"I gather you like it?" Clare said, her voice betraying amusement.
I cleared my throat. Like it? Was she kidding? It was breath taking. "It's beautiful. Thank you."
Clare beamed as though I'd just complimented her on her fashion sense. "I'l let you unpack then and shal bring up your dinner in half an hour. Of course you can eat in the dining room, but I assume you're tired and may want some privacy before your first day of work."
"Yes, that'd be great. Thanks."
"Excel ent. The TV remote control is on the night table. The bathroom's through there." Clare pointed at a door on the other side of the room. "If you need anything, I'm in the library, which is on the ground floor, the second door to the right. You can look around the house if you like, but the second floor is off-limits."
Once Clare closed the door behind her, I walked to the bed and pul ed the heavy bedspread aside. The sheet beneath was of a perfect white. I opened my suitcase and threw my clothes haphazardly into the closet near the window, leaving my books and various memorabilia in my suitcase.
Neatness wasn't my strongest point, but what my new boss didn't know couldn't hurt him. From al the competition, funny that I should be the lucky one to land such a wel -paid job. Whatever Dal as wrote on that application form, I could only hope he hadn't pretended I was a domestic goddess.
That might just mean the end of my placement, and I real y needed the money.
I walked into the bathroom and reached for the light switch. The bulb flickered to life, revealing wal s covered in white tiles with tiny, dark blue flowers. I peeked into the mirror above the washbasin and grimaced at my mousy brown hair that lacked a good cut, my chubby cheeks and big hazel eyes. Many cal ed me pretty, but I knew I would never have that extra something that would make a guy fal in love with me. Cameron hadn't, or so he said before making it clear he wanted a break.
Enough dark thoughts already. Pushing my mental baggage to the back of my mind, I sighed and opened a cabinet. A toothbrush, shower gel, lavender soap and moisturising lotion occupied the upper shelf. In another cabinet I found white towels and a bathrobe. I stripped off my jeans, red jumper and underwear, and jumped under the shower. The hot water relaxed my aching muscles and washed away the invisible signs of a long day.
Wrapped in a towel, I walked back to the bedroom, and sank into the clean scent of recently washed sheets, fal ing asleep as soon as my head hit the pil ow.
A thud woke me up in the middle of the night. Disoriented, I looked around in the soft light cast by the lamp I had forgotten to switch off. My head felt groggy as I threw a glance at my phone on the bedside table. It was shortly before three a.m. Everything seemed quiet, and yet I couldn't shake off the feeling that something or someone was in the room, watching me. For a moment I thought I glimpsed pale blue eyes staring at me from the door. I spun around, heart jumping in my throat. No one there. No picture frames on the wal to hide a spy hole either. Shivering, I walked to the window and peeked through the curtains. The moon hid behind thick rain clouds. The room had noticeably cooled down.
I returned to my bed, pul ing the sheets tighter around my shivering body, when I heard a thud outside my bedroom door. It was an old house and the rain and wind would make the wood creak, the living shapes of furniture simulating the threat of approaching danger, so nothing to worry there.
Holding my breath, I listened for more sounds. The house was silent again. My bones felt stiff and tired, but any signs of sleepiness were gone. I slipped into my bathrobe, hesitating in front of the door. Should I real y leave the comforting safety of my room and risk waking up my new employer? He might fire me for disturbing his beauty sleep.
Oh, sod it.
If I didn't check, I'd morph into an obsessive lunatic for the rest of the night. I crept to the door and opened it in one go, cringing at the squeaking sound of old hinges. The light from the lamp threw dark shadows on the thick rug covering the woode
The hal was empty.
It had been a long night of tossing and turning. In the morning, I stretched under the sheets, enjoying the pleasant heat of the room, when I realised it was already after nine. I was supposed to start my first day of work, not sleep in. Darn it. Trust me to lose a job because of some lavender-scented pil ows.
I threw the sheets aside and rummaged through the closet to find a pair of black jeans and a white shirt. I pul ed one out, al crumpled. Smel ing the armpits, I grimaced. Why did it reek like I just finished a double shift at McDonald's? With one arm I retrieved another shirt while brushing my teeth with the other hand, then stopped to take another sniff and scowled again. This one didn't smel much better, but I had no more time to waste. I put it on and dashed down the stairs to the large kitchen.
The sun spil ed bright rays through the double glazed windows. I peeked left and right and inhaled, relieved that no one was about. Perfect. If no one waited, then no one would know I was late. Whoever lived here was either stil asleep, or they had left already. I snorted to myself. As if. The mansion was situated in the middle of the Highlands—where would they go? The forest extended for miles behind the back of the house. There were only two options: either McAl ister worked from home, which wasn't likely. What with those high trees and probably no Internet connection. Or he drove to the nearest city, Inverness, which was two hours away. I chuckled, feeling enlightened because everything suddenly made sense. The name rang familiar, as though I somehow knew him without ever meeting him. I figured McAl ister had to be a semi-famous writer—old, afraid of company, preferring solitude—because no one else would choose to live in this forsaken area.