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Eve of Sin City
By S. J. Day, Melissa Ann Singer, Gordon Crabb
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 S. J. Day
All rights reserved.
Evangeline Hollis eyed the hard-hat-wearing kappa demon presently holding two wallpaper samples against the wall.
"You know," she said, mostly to herself, "I always thought 'Sin City' was just a nickname."
"Ms. Hollis." Raguel Gadara's voice was laced with the resignation of a long-suffering parent. Softened by the resonance unique to all the archangels, it still chastised effectively. "Focus, please."
Eve shot a wry glance at her boss. How the hell was she supposed to focus on wallpaper patterns when there was an Infernal in the room? She didn't care that the kappa worked for Gadara Enterprises. All demons who'd defected to the Celestial side were secretly on the lookout for anything that would win back Satan's favor. Knocking out an archangel would do the trick.
If anything bad happened to the archangel Raguel on her watch ...
Shaking off the thought, Eve forced herself to concentrate on the task at hand. Working for Raguel Gadara — real estate magnate extraordinaire and owner of the Mondego Resort in Las Vegas — had once been a career dream of hers. The reality was more of a nightmare. Her years of interior design education and experience had been relegated to the sidelines of her "real" job: demon bounty hunting.
"The pale blue with lilies," she decided, cocking her head to one side. In her previous secular life, she'd be sporting Manolo Blahnik stilettos and a pinstriped skirt. As a Mark — one of thousands of sinners drafted via the Mark of Cain to kill demons on God's behalf — she was wearing Doc Martens and yoga pants. The thick, straight black hair she'd inherited from her Japanese mother was pulled back in a simple, braided ponytail. Those who were unfortunate enough to be "marked" never knew when they'd be called into service. It was best to be prepared for everything, all the time.
"Serene choice." Gadara gave an approving, regal nod. "A nice dichotomy to the casino."
"A refuge from the insanity. If it takes guests longer to wear out, they might extend their stay. In theory."
He flashed a smile that nearly blinded her. His pearly white teeth were brilliant framed by his chocolate-hued skin. For a moment, Eve was arrested by his appearance. His dark flesh was burnished by the golden sheen that distinguished archangels, making him beautiful to look upon. Awe-inspiring, and sometimes frightening. Celestial power thrummed through the air around him, creating a nearly irresistible compulsion to cede to anything he requested.
She shook that off, too.
The kappa lowered the wallpaper and popped a bubble of gum. Since Marks weren't vigilantes, working with demons who hadn't yet "crossed the line" was inevitable in the course of conducting secular business. But she didn't have to like it. The stench of their rotting souls was worse than decomposition. Without the Mark of Cain, she'd be queasy now. One of the boons of the mark was the precision with which her body functioned — she no longer had physical reactions to most stimuli, emotional or otherwise.
"I also prefer the solid gray-blue carpeting," Eve went on. "It'll need to be cleaned more than a patterned pile, so we should restrict its use to the suites, but the color will add to the feeling of serenity."
"Did you gravitate toward blue in your own home decor?"
She shook her head. "I used a lot of neutrals. I didn't want anything to compete with my view of the beach."
Her oceanfront apartment in Huntington Beach, California, was her refuge from the world at large, a world in which Infernals lived alongside mortals who were blissfully ignorant. Such was the life she lived now, having her Big Mac served by faeries and her car detailed by werewolves.
"Understandable." Gadara's smile widened. "The hand of God is incomparable."
She let that little dig roll off her. As a former agnostic, she was now forced to acknowledge a higher power. However, she certainly didn't fall into the ranks of the devout. Too many of the Lord's decisions were ones she disagreed with, and his lack of attention to detail chafed. The oversight of the day-to-day operations of the marked system was left in the hands of the seraphim. Like the American judicial system, there were bondsmen (the archangels), dispatchers (malakhim), and bounty hunters (Marks like her). God was content with occasional vague memos.
Gadara gestured for the kappa to proceed with Eve's selection. Then, the archangel set his hand at the small of her back and urged her toward the open door leading to the corridor. "Will dinner at seven be acceptable?"
He wasn't coming on to her or making a request. Gadara liked to keep her close for the same reason all angels and demons went out of their way to get to her: they wanted to irritate the two men in her life — Cain and Abel. The brothers went by the names Alec Cain and Reed Abel in present day, but they were the infamous siblings of biblical legend nevertheless. Gadara was as ruthlessly ambitious as the other archangels, and she was a unique advantage to him because pulling her strings kept both Cain and Abel toeing his line.
"She's not available tonight, Raguel." The low, deep voice that intruded sent a mental shiver of awareness through Eve.
If not for the mark's regulatory effect on her body, she'd have goose bumps. Alec Cain was her mentor in the marked system and the love of her life. He'd roared into her life on a Harley when she was almost eighteen, and by the time he left her behind she was madly in love and no longer a virgin. She'd still been comparing other men to him ten years later when Reed Abel entered her life and branded her with the Mark of Cain. That started a triangular relationship she'd once thought would be impossible for her.
Actually, she thought wryly, it was impossible. In every way. Being the latest point of contention in the oldest sibling rivalry in history was a tremendous pain in the ass.
Turning her head, Eve watched Alec approach with his quick, sure-footed stride. Of course he suffered none of the effects of teleportation that she — a lowly Mark — did. That would be fair; God didn't play fair.
"Why are you here, Cain?" Gadara couldn't have sounded more reproving.
"With all the Infernal activity in the area, you have to ask?" He raked Eve with a blatantly sexual glance. "More importantly, I miss my girl. You've monopolized her long enough. Tonight, she's mine."
She smiled at the way he purred his last sentence. He was trouble and made no effort to hide it. His well-worn jeans, scuffed steel-toed boots, and overlong hair warned women to tread carefully where he was concerned. The "bad boy" look wasn't an affectation by any means. Alec was the original and most ferocious of all the Marks. He was also God's primary enforcer. Every other Mark took orders from mal'akh "handlers," but he took his orders directly from the Almighty himself.
Gadara bared his teeth in a gesture an idiot might think was a smile. "I believe Ms. Hollis intends to be present at the pre-opening of the Two to Tango club this evening."
"It's done?" Alec wrapped her in a bear hug. "Can't wait to see it, Angel."
Evangeline. Eve. Angel. A nickname only he ever used. He still said it with the seductive rumble that had landed her in this Mark of Cain mess to begin with. There were a lot of reasons why she loved him, but that nickname and the way he showed such pride in her accomplishments were definitely at the top of her list.
"And I can't wait to see you in a tux," she teased.
He groaned. "The things I do for you."
The thought of him in a tuxedo made her hot. Alec was like skydiving — the thrill of the fall was addicting, despite knowing the ground was rushing up to meet you.
Her smile faded as his look of discomfort took on an unmistakable edge. His left biceps twitched, telling her his mark was burning — Heaven's way of calling Marks into service.
"Uh-oh," she said.
"Shit." Alec glared at Gadara.
"As you said" — the archangel shrugged innocently, but grinned like the Cheshire Cat — "the Infernal activity in the area is unusually brisk."
Eve gave a playful tug to Alec's belt loops. She hated it when he went out, knowing that one day he might not make it back to her, but she kept those fears to herself. Knowing she was scared for him would only fuck with his head at a time when he needed to be totally on his game. "You know where to find me when you're done."
He used the mental connection between mentor and Mark to share the vulnerability he had to hide from others. Damn it. I miss you.
Don't let me distract you, she admonished.
Giving a curt nod, he shifted away, disappearing from her grip as if he'd never been there at all. For a moment, Eve envied him. She hadn't been called out on a hunt since she'd arrived in Las Vegas a month ago. Occasionally, she wondered if Reed — who was her handler — was deliberately keeping her out of service (and therefore, out of harm's way), but that wasn't his style. Unlike his brother, he lived for rules. No matter what his feelings for her were, he wouldn't let them get in the way of his job.
"You feel restless." Gadara caught her elbow in a gentle grip. "I assure you, your hiatus is not deliberate."
"Don't get excited," she muttered. "It doesn't mean I like this gig. I'm still going to find a way out."
Gadara wisely held his tongue, but his dark eyes sparkled with amusement. He led her toward the bank of elevators located down the corridor. An empty car was waiting, since the entire wing was closed for renovation. Within a few short moments, they were exiting onto the lobby floor.
As the doors slid open, a deluge of sensory input poured into the enclosed space — the merry dinging of slot machines, the putrid odor of rotting souls, and frequent shouts from both joyous and distraught gamblers. Eve wondered how gambling fit into a divine plan, since the income from all of Gadara's various enterprises funded the activities and living expenses of the Marks under his command. The archangel was effectively serving a 24/7 all-you-can-eat buffet to Infernals; the desperation, avarice, and desolation filling Las Vegas drew them like ants to honey. Basically, the archangel was using demons to help fund the killing of demons. Poetic justice? Or a sick joke? She couldn't decide.
"I took the liberty," Gadara said, "of having a selection of gowns delivered to your suite."
Eve's nose wrinkled. She hated to be indebted to him for anything, especially calculated kindness. On the other hand, she disliked herself for taking her wariness to the extreme and being ungrateful. "Thank you."
"But," she qualified, "I have some suitable cocktail dresses of my own."
"Ballroom dancing in a cocktail dress?"
"I can't ballroom dance." She shrugged at his widened eyes. "It's not something the average girl learns, you know."
"You are not average."
As they passed the front desk en route to the elevators that accessed her wing of the property, Eve noticed the proliferation of Elvis impersonators clogging the registration area.
She whistled. "And that's not an average number of Elvises. Or is it Elvi?"
"International Elvis Week," he explained, pointing to a banner stretching across the casino ceiling.
"I'd like to see Elvis ballroom dance."
"That could be arranged."
Eve's brows rose. "Really?"
Gadara's smile was mischievous. "Seven o'clock, Ms. Hollis."
Two Marks in black garb approached and flanked him. The personal guards of the archangels were impressive by any estimation; Eve gladly handed Gadara's care over to them.
Knowing he was safe, she worked her way through the throng of jumpsuit- clad impersonators and hit the button for the elevator. She had a new club to open and a night with Alec to look forward to. As crappy as her day had been so far, things were definitely looking up.
She decided not to think about how that usually meant things were about to take a turn for the worse....CHAPTER 2
Gadara towered over Eve with his hand extended to her. "Dancing with me is not optional."
Eve remained seated and crossed her arms. "I told you, I don't know how."
"But I do."
"I'm a quick study, but I'm not that quick," she argued. "It takes a week for the stars on Dancing with the Stars to learn one dance."
The popular reality television show was the inspiration for the creation of the Two to Tango club. Using the basic setup from the show as a launching point, Eve had gone with 1930s'/1940s' Big Band retro decor throughout, then shaken things up a bit by using the same hardwood of the dance floor to create meandering trails around the booths and tables. Professional dancers in costume whirled along the paths, providing entertainment to all the patrons no matter where they were seated while also encouraging them to participate. For a designer with her level of experience, such a highly visible project was a major gift.
Satan wasn't the only one who traded dreams for souls. The archangels read from the same book, after all.
Gadara's lips pursed. "Your lack of faith is your greatest hindrance. Your welfare on this earth is entirely in my hands. You must trust me."
"I died!" She had no intention of ever letting him forget it, since he was the one who'd put her in the line of fire before she was fully trained.
"Ms. Hollis." The exasperation was back in his tone. "Dance with me."
Celestial command resonated through his words, creating a compulsion strong enough to make her stand.
Eve glared at him. "The Jedi mind trick isn't cool when you're using it on me."
A hand reached between them to catch her wrist. Her gaze followed the line of a tuxedo-clad arm, then moved across a broad shoulder before coming to rest at warm brown eyes.
Reed Abel's smile was slow and seductive. "Hey, babe."
She inhaled sharply, struck by how handsome he was. The resemblance to his brother was unmistakable, but they were very different men. The reaction she had to each was unique, yet equally powerful. "Hey."
Gadara looked prepared to argue about the intrusion, then changed course and stepped back. He never gave an inch unless there was something in it for him. In this case, she guessed he wanted to facilitate aggravating Alec.
The archangels got their kicks where they could.
Reed tugged her toward the dance floor. "You did a great job. This place is impressive."
"Thank you. So are you." No one wore Armani like Reed. He was always impeccable, from his perfect precision haircut to his custom designer suits. While Alec was rough-and-tumble, Reed was smooth and polished. But only on the outside. On the inside, Alec was more stable. Reed was best described as volatile, especially in regards to his feelings for her.
He checked her out and gave a low appreciative whistle. "It takes work to do you justice."
She smiled. The peacock blue dress she'd selected was brilliantly hued, yet simply designed, allowing the vibrant color to take center stage. Even jewelry would have been too much, so she'd gone mostly without. Her only adornments were a necklace worn as an anklet and the diamond ring on her left hand — two pieces of jewelry she never removed — and her only cosmetics were mascara and lip gloss. She'd dressed up for her own enjoyment, just to feel like her old self for an hour or two, but she was still glad he liked it.
When they reached the edge of the dance floor, he bowed elegantly. "Dance with me."
Eve groaned at the images filling his mind: thoughts of beautifully skilled and expert maneuvers she wasn't capable of. As her handler, he had the same mental access to her as Alec did, making her brain the brothers' closest connection since childhood. Which was a real bitch for her.
"Give me a few years," she said dryly. "Maybe I'll find the time to fit in some lessons."
"Do you trust me?"
She shot him an arch glance. With her life, yes. With everything else, not so much.
"We're in public," he purred. "So I have to keep it clean."
Eve took the few steps required to become enfolded in his embrace. "Don't get fancy, and you might be able to walk away from this without a limp."
Reed laughed, a full-throated sound that did things to her it shouldn't. "Let me lead and we'll be fine."
Excerpted from Eve of Sin City by S. J. Day, Melissa Ann Singer, Gordon Crabb. Copyright © 2010 S. J. Day. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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