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By RICHELLE MEAD
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Richelle Mead
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStatistics show that most mortals sell their souls for five reasons: sex, money, power, revenge, and love. In that order.
I suppose I should have been reassured, then, that I was out here assisting with numero uno, but the whole situation just made me feel ... well, sleazy. And coming from me, that was something.
Maybe I just can't empathize anymore, I mused. It's been too long. When I was a virgin, people still believed swans could impregnate girls.
Nearby, Hugh waited patiently for me to overcome my reticence. He stuffed his hands into well-pressed khakis, leaning his large frame against his Lexus. "I don't see what the big deal is. You do this all the time."
That wasn't exactly true, but we both knew what he meant. Ignoring him, I instead made a great show of studying my surroundings, not that that improved my mood. The suburbs always dragged me down. Identical houses. Perfect lawns. Far too many SUVs. Somewhere in the night, a dog refused to stop yapping.
"I don't do this," I said finally. "Even I have standards."
Hugh snorted, expressing his opinion of my standards. "Okay, if it makes you feel better, don't think of this in terms of damnation. Think of it as a charity case."
"A charity case?"
He pulled out his Pocket PC, looking briskly businesslike, despite the unorthodox setting. Not that I should have been surprised. Hugh was a professional imp, a master at getting mortals to sell their souls, an expert in contracts and legal loopholes that would have made any lawyer wince in envy.
He was also my friend. It sort of gave new meaning to the With friends like these ... adage.
"Listen to these stats," he continued. "Martin Miller. Male, of course. Caucasian. Nonpracticing Lutheran. Works over at a game store in the mall. Lives in the basement here-his parents' house."
"Charity or no, it still seems so ... extreme. How old is he again?"
"Exactly. If you were that old and hadn't gotten any, you might seek desperate measures too." He glanced down at his watch. "So are you going to do this or not?"
No doubt I was keeping Hugh from a date with some hot woman half his age-by which I meant, of course, the age Hugh looked. In reality, he was pushing a century.
I set my purse on the ground and gave him a warning glance. "You owe me."
"I do," he conceded. This wasn't my usual gig, thank goodness. The imp normally "outsourced" this kind of thing but had run into some kind of scheduling problem tonight. I couldn't imagine who he normally got to do this.
I started toward the house, but he stopped me. "Georgina?"
"There's ... one other thing ..."
I turned back around, not liking the tone in his voice. "Yes?"
"He, um, sort of had a special request."
I raised an eyebrow and waited.
"You see, uh, he's really into the whole, like, evil thing. You know, figures if he sold his soul to the devil-so to speak-then he should lose his virginity to a, I don't know, demoness or something."
I swear, even the dog stopped barking at that. "You're joking."
Hugh didn't respond.
"I'm not a-no. No way am I going to-"
"Come on, Georgina. It's nothing. A flourish. Smoke and mirrors. Please? Just do this for me?" He turned wistful, cajoling. Hard to resist. Like I said, he was good at his job. "I'm really in a tight spot ... if you could help me out here ... it would mean so much ..."
I groaned, unable to refuse the pathetic look on his broad face. "If anyone finds out about this-"
"My lips are sealed." He actually had the audacity to make a sealing motion.
Bending down, resigned, I unfastened the straps on my shoes.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"These are my favorite Bruno Maglis. I don't want them absorbed when I change."
"Yeah, but ... you can just shape-shift them back."
"They won't be the same."
"They will. You can make them anything you want. This is just silly."
"Look," I demanded, "do you want to stand out here arguing shoes, or do you want me to go make a man of your virgin?"
Hugh clamped his mouth shut and gestured toward the house.
I padded away in the grass, the blades tickling my bare feet. The back patio leading to the basement was open, just as Hugh had promised. I let myself into the sleeping house, hoping they didn't have a dog, blearily wondering how I'd reached this low point in my existence. Adjusting to the darkness, my eyes soon discerned the features of a comfortable, middle-class family room: sofa, television, bookshelves. A stairwell rose to the left, and a hallway veered to the right.
I turned down the hall, letting my appearance shape-shift as I walked. The sensation was so familiar, so second nature to me, that I didn't even need to see my exterior to know what was happening. My petite frame grew taller, the slim build still staying slim but taking on a leaner, harder edge. My skin paled to death white, leaving no memory of its faint tan. The hair, already to my midback, stayed the same length but darkened to jet black, the fine waviness turning straight and coarse. My breasts-impressive by most standards-became larger still, rivaling those of the comic book heroines this guy had undoubtedly grown up with.
As for my outfit ... well, away went the cute Banana Republic slacks and blouse. Thigh-high black leather boots appeared on my legs, paired with a matching halter top and a skirt I never could have bent over in. Spiky wings, horns, and a whip completed the package.
"Oh Lord," I muttered, accidentally taking in the whole effect in a small decorative mirror. I hoped none of the local demonesses ever found about this. They were really quite classy.
Turning from the taunting mirror, I stared down the hall at my destination: a closed door with a yellow MEN AT WORK sign attached to it. I thought I could hear the faint sounds of a video game bleeping from beyond, though such noises silenced immediately when I knocked.
A moment later, the door opened, and I stood facing a five-foot-eight guy with shoulder-length, dirty blond hair rapidly receding on top. A large, hairy belly peeped out from underneath his Homer Simpson T-shirt, and he held a bag of potato chips in one hand.
The bag dropped to the floor when he saw me.
"Y-yes," he gasped out.
I cracked the whip. "You ready to play with me?"
Exactly six minutes later, I left the Miller residence. Apparently thirty-four years doesn't do much for one's stamina.
"Whoa, that was fast," Hugh noted, seeing me walk across the front yard. He was leaning against the car again, smoking a cigarette.
"No shit. Got another one of those?"
He grinned and handed over his own cigarette, giving me a once-over. "Would you be offended if I said the wings kind of get me hot?"
I took the cigarette, narrowing my eyes at him as I inhaled. A quick check ascertained no one else was around, and I shape-shifted back to my usual form.
"You owe me big," I reminded him, putting the shoes back on.
"I know. Of course, some might argue you owe me. You got a nice fix from it. Better than you're used to."
I couldn't deny that, but I didn't have to feel good about it either. Poor Martin. Geek or no, committing his soul to eternal damnation was a helluva price to pay for six minutes.
"You wanna get a drink?" Hugh offered.
"No, it's too late. I'm going home. Got a book to read."
"Ah, of course. When's the big day?"
"Tomorrow," I proclaimed.
The imp chuckled at my hero worship. "He just writes mainstream fiction, you know. He's hardly Nietzsche or Thoreau."
"Hey, one doesn't have to be surreal or transcendental to be a great writer. I should know; I've seen a few over the years."
Hugh grunted at my imperious air, giving me a mock bow. "Far be it from me to argue with a lady about her age."
I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then walked two blocks to where I had parked. I was unlocking the car door when I felt it: the warm, tingling feeling indicative of another immortal nearby. Vampire, I registered, only a millisecond before he appeared beside me. Damn, they moved fast.
"Georgina, my belle, my sweet succubus, my goddess of delight," he intoned, placing his hands over his heart dramatically.
Great. Just what I needed. Duane was quite possibly the most obnoxious immortal I'd ever met. He kept his blond hair shaved to a close buzz, and as usual, he demonstrated terrible taste in both fashion and deodorant.
"Go away, Duane. I have nothing to say to you."
"Oh come on," he crooned, his hand snaking out to hold the door as I tried to open it. "Even you can't play coy this time. Look at you. You're positively glowing. Good hunting, eh?"
I scowled at the reference to Martin's life energy, knowing it must be wreathing me. Obstinately, I tried to pry my door open against Duane's hold. No luck.
"He'll be out for days, from the looks of it," the vampire added, peering at me closely. "Still, I imagine whoever he was enjoyed the ride-both on you and to hell." He gave me a lazy smile, just barely revealing his pointed teeth. "He must have been someone pretty good for you to look as hot as you do now. What happened? I thought you only fucked the scum of the earth. The real assholes."
"Change of policy. I didn't want to give you false hope."
He shook his head appreciatively. "Oh Georgina, you never disappoint-you and your witticisms. But then, I've always found whores know how to make good use of their mouths, on or off the job."
"Let go," I snapped, tugging harder at the door.
"Why the hurry? I have a right to know what you and the imp were doing over here. The Eastside is my turf."
"We don't have to abide by your 'turf' rules, and you know it."
"Still, common courtesy dictates when you're in the neighborhood-literally, in this case-you at least say hello. Besides, how come we never hang out? You owe me some quality time. You spend enough time with those other losers."
The losers he referred to were my friends and the only decent vampires I'd ever met. Most vampires-like Duane-were arrogant, devoid of social skills, and obsessed with territoriality. Not unlike a lot of mortal men I'd met.
"If you don't let me go, you're going to learn a whole new definition of 'common courtesy.'"
Okay, it was a stupid, faux action-movie line, but it was the best I could come up with on the spot. I made my voice sound as menacing as possible, but it was pure bravado, and he knew it. Succubi were gifted with charisma and shape-shifting; vampires had super strength and speed. What this meant was that one of us mingled better at parties, and the other could break a man's wrist with a handshake.
"Are you actually threatening me?" He ran a playful hand along my cheek, making the hairs on my neck stand on end-in a bad way. I squirmed. "That's adorable. And kind of arousing. I actually think I'd like to see you on the offensive. Maybe if you'd just behave like a good girl-ow! You little bitch!"
With both of his hands occupied, I had seized my window of opportunity. A quick burst of shape-shifting, and sharp, three-inch claws appeared on my right hand. I swiped them across his cheek. His superior reflexes didn't let me get very far with the gesture, but I did draw blood before he gripped my wrist and slammed it against the car.
"What's the matter? Not offensive enough for you?" I managed through my pain. More bad movie lines.
"Cute, Georgina. Very cute. We'll see how cute you are by the time I-"
Headlights glimmered in the night as a car turned the corner on the next block and headed toward us. In that split second, I could see the indecision on Duane's face. Our tête-à-tête would undoubtedly be noticed by the driver. While Duane could easily kill an intervening mortal-hell, it was what he did for a living-having the kill linked to his harassment of me would not look good to our superiors. Even an asshole like Duane would think twice before stirring up that kind of paperwork.
"We aren't finished," he hissed, releasing my wrist.
"Oh, I think we are." I could feel braver now that salvation was on the way. "The next time you come near me's going to be the last."
"I'm quaking in terror," he simpered. His eyes gleamed once in the darkness, and then he was gone, moving off into the night just as the car drove past. Thank God for whatever liaison or ice cream run had pulled that driver out tonight.
Not wasting any more time, I got into my car and drove off, anxious to be back in the city. I tried to ignore the shaking of my hands on the wheel, but the truth of the matter was, Duane terrified me. I had told him off plenty of times in the presence of my immortal friends, but taking him on alone on a dark street was an entirely different matter, especially since all my threats had been empty ones.
I actually abhorred violence in all its forms. I suppose this came from living through periods of history fraught with levels of cruelty and brutality no one in the modern world could even comprehend. People like to say we live in violent times now, but they have no idea. Sure, there had been a certain satisfaction centuries ago in seeing a rapist castrated swiftly and promptly for his crimes, without endless courtroom drama or an early release for "good behavior." Unfortunately, those who deal in revenge and vigilantism rarely know where to draw the line, so I'd take the bureaucracy of the modern judicial system any day.
Thinking back to how I'd presumed the fortuitous driver was on an ice cream run, I decided a little dessert would do me some good too. Once I was safely back in Seattle, I stopped in a 24-hour grocery store, discovering some marketing mastermind had created tiramisu-flavored ice cream. Tiramisu and ice cream. The ingenuity of mortals never failed to amaze me.
As I was about to pay, I passed a display of flowers. They were cheap and a little tattered, but I watched as a young man came in and nervously scanned them over. At last he selected some autumn-colored mums and carried them off. My eyes followed him wistfully, half-jealous of whatever girl would be getting those.
As Duane had noted, I usually fed off losers, guys I didn't have to feel guilty about hurting or rendering unconscious for a few days. Those kind did not send flowers and usually avoided most romantic gestures altogether. As for the guys who did send flowers, well, I avoided them. For their own good. That was out of character for a succubus, but I was too jaded to care about propriety anymore.
Feeling sad and lonely, I picked up a bouquet of red carnations for myself and paid for it and the ice cream.
When I arrived home, my phone was ringing. Setting down my goods, I glanced at the Caller-ID. Caller unknown.
"My lord and master," I answered. "What a perfect ending to a perfect night."
"Save your quips, Georgie. Why were you fucking with Duane?"
"He just called. Said you were unduly hassling him."
"Hassling? Him?" Outrage surged inside me. "He started it! He came up to me and-"
"Did you hit him?"
I sighed. Jerome was the archdemon of the greater Seattle hierarchy of evil, as well as my supervisor. It was his job to manage all of us, make sure we did our duties, and keep us in line. Like any lazy demon, however, he preferred we create as little work for him as possible. His annoyance was almost palpable through the phone line.
"I did sort of hit him. Actually, it was more of a swipe."
"I see. A swipe. And did you threaten him too?"
"Well, yes, I guess, if you want to argue semantics, but Jerome, come on! He's a vampire. I can't touch him. You know that."
The archdemon hesitated, apparently considering the outcome of me going head-to-head with Duane. I must have lost in the hypothetical battle because I heard Jerome exhale a moment later.
"Yes. I suppose. But don't provoke him anymore. I've got enough to work on right now without you children having catfights."
"Since when do you work?" Children indeed.
"Good night, Georgie. Don't tangle with Duane again."
The phone disconnected. Demons weren't big on small talk.
I hung up, feeling highly offended. I couldn't believe Duane had tattled on me and then made me out to be the bad guy. Worse, Jerome seemed to have believed it. At least at first. That probably hurt me most of all because, my slacker-succubus habits aside, I'd always enjoyed a kind of indulgent, teacher's pet role with the archdemon.
Excerpted from SUCCUBUS BLUES by RICHELLE MEAD Copyright © 2007 by Richelle Mead. Excerpted by permission.
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