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Date With A Devil
By Anne Stuart Cherry Adair Muriel Jensen
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGideon ran his fingers over the piano keys, his mind only half on his task. As far as hell went, he'd been in worse ones. The three hundred and forty-seventh level wasn't bad at all, and his assignments weren't particularly onerous. He spent his time at the piano, letting his long fingers dance over the pure ivory keys, and if there were screams of torment from his fellow damned, he couldn't hear them.
It wasn't the first place he'd landed after his unfortunate demise at the hands of someone's angry boyfriend. For some reason there'd always been a piano for him, and the heat had varied from suffocating to mildly tropical. Here on the three hundred and forty-seventh level it was practically balmy.
Ralph wasn't a bad host, all things considered. Right now he was looking more like a Wall Street shark than a ruler of a level of hell, but in the end Gideon wasn't certain if there was that great a difference between the two.
Then again, he wasn't certain of anything, including his years on earth. He knew why he was in hell, though. He'd had an insatiable craving for women. He'd adored them, all of them, the tall, the short, the plump, the scrawny, old and young, sweet and sour. He just liked women. Which would probably have been fine, but he'd loved sex as well, and made it his goal to be the most inventive, astonishing lover. Maybe that wouldn't have damned him either, except it had been his own pride and pleasure that had driven him, not altruistic feelings toward the women he'd bedded. He'd wanted them so blissed-out that any man who followed him would never measure up. And that had added up to a lot of men with inadequacy complexes, since he had never stayed with a woman for long.
No, he'd signed his own contract with hell early on, whether he'd known it or not. Married, single, involved or even a holy nun, it had made no difference to him who the woman was. It was little wonder that sooner or later some jealous lover had caught up with him.
He could remember the pain of the knife carving into him, but he couldn't remember the place, the time or the man who'd done it. It could have been seventeenth century Venice - there was every possibility he could have been Casanova himself. Or it could have been the courts of Salzburg. The only thing that remained in his memory and in his hands was the piano, and when he tried to guess what kind of life he'd lived, he liked the idea of being a womanizing piano prodigy, like Liszt. Except when he played Liszt from memory he played it badly. Almost as badly as he played Chopin.
For all he knew he could have been a child of the twentieth century. Or the twenty-first - time had no place on the three hundred and forty-seventh level of hell. At least playing piano was better than shoveling coal into the vast boilers that ran the pits of eternal damnation.
There were times when he wondered if there even was a heaven. The bureaucracy of hell was so varied, obtuse and complex that even after eons, maybe centuries, Gideon had no notion of how it was organized. Every time he thought he was coming a little closer to understanding, he'd be whisked off to another level, his mind wiped clean of everything, only his fingers still remembering what they could do with the keys of a piano.
As far as imps of Satan went, Ralph wasn't bad. He had a snarky sense of humor but a real affection for Gideon's music, and he tended to leave him mostly alone. Except for the unexpected summons that had materialized on top of the piano. A summons Gideon knew better than to ignore.
He made his way through the dingy corridors, humming beneath his breath. He was reasonably content where he was, despite or maybe because of the total lack of women. There was no one to tempt him into his old ways, and celibacy had its own charms. And if the three hundred and forty-seventh level had an unfortunate resemblance to a decrepit military school dormitory he was hardly in a position to expect white palaces and cloudless vistas. He was in hell, after all, and deservedly so.
Ralph had a vain streak and a weakness for theatricality. The first time Gideon had met him he'd been sitting on a white throne, surrounded by androgynous creatures draped all over him, and it had reminded him of some bad biblical epic. Today he was in an office on a lower floor of the dormitory, a battered steel desk in front of him, the curtains closed, lights off so that the room was flooded with darkness. Gideon could barely make out his form from behind the desk.
"Nice hair," he said dryly. Despite the darkness, he couldn't miss Ralph's unexpected spiky mane of orange and blue hair that fell over one side of his face - he changed his hair almost as often as he changed his face and body. Only his eyes remained constant, watchful.
"I like variety," he said with a faint Russian accent. He changed his accents just as often, delighting in how long it took Gideon to identify his latest choice. But he didn't seem in a playful mood today.
"Have a seat," he added, not moving out of the darkness.
"Mind if I turn on a light?"
Gideon hooked his foot around the steel leg of the office chair and pulled it under him, stretching back to survey his ... He never could quite figure out what Ralph was. His boss? His friend? His mentor? His god?
"Fiend from hell pretty much covers it," Ralph said out loud.
Excerpted from Date With A Devil by Anne Stuart Cherry Adair Muriel Jensen Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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