Devil Under the Mistletoe
Holidays Are Hell, Book 1
by Sam Cheever
eBook BIN: 06067-01947
Amanda Wright might have been unjustly judged. She might not belong in Hell at all. Problem is, Damian really kind of likes her. He especially likes enjoying her lush, willing body under the mistletoe. If he gets her the judgment she truly deserves, he’s probably going to lose her forever. But if he doesn’t help her, an innocent may spend eternity in Hell. It appears to be a lose/lose situation on all fronts. Proving once again that holidays truly are hell!
Damian Noire was inches away from escape. Mere inches from finally getting the time off he needed. But in his weariness he apparently hadn’t moved quickly enough.
The skin on his hand burned and he swore, looking down at the flame-shaped tattoo. Three of his fingers were tipped with flame. A three-alarm blaze. Shit! His initial thought was to make a run for it. Once he got through the door he’d be temporarily immune to the summons. But he couldn’t ignore a three-alarm summons. He’d be sent to the lowest circle of Hell for a month if he did.
Damian threw back his head and roared his frustration. He didn’t feel any better for it. Ten minutes. Only ten minutes until midnight on Christmas, and somebody had to go and achieve room temperature. Muttering under his breath, he turned around and headed back toward the assembly vault. He’d been so close to hitting the sparkling black beaches of the boiling sea. So damn close.
Damian bumped into a tall, heavily muscled demon he recognized from the vault. The big demon’s name was Abaddon but they called him Don.
Don laughed, fire flashing in his bright green eyes as he shoved past Damian to the door. “I’ll build a sand castle in your honor, Damian.”
“Not today, demon. I’m off to get a Brazilian wax. Maybe next time.”
“Real men don’t wax their balls.”
Don laughed, wiggling his fingers at Damian as he walked out into the broiling suns of Hell to start his post-holiday vacation.
Damian watched him go, feeling sour. He’d really been looking forward to some time off. The holidays were a busy time for the perdition guides. For some strange reason, more people died around the holidays, and about a third of them had to be dragged South to much warmer climes when they did. His only consolation was that the guys in white were even busier than the perdition guides.
As always, it sucked to be an Angel. Not only did they walk around with giant, metaphorical sticks up their asses, but they never got a vacay. At least Damian knew he’d finally get his time off once he finished whatever hellish task the assembly had lined up for him.
Walking against the tide, Damian glared at all his fellow guides as they headed out. They all gave him some version of the grief he’d gotten from Don. It wasn’t exactly a compassionate group.
He walked through the black onyx, double doors and past the few guides and their clients still sitting in hard-backed wooden chairs. They were waiting for their time in front of the assembly, to learn which circle of Hell they’d be placed in for eternity.
Tears and glowers dominated on the pale, sometimes torn and blood-covered, faces waiting to be placed. Supplicants rarely liked waking up from death to discover they were being taken South rather than North. That was usually when your average damned soul embraced his or her inner politician. Much to their chagrin, they quickly learned that lies and obfuscations didn’t go quite as far in Hell as they did in Washington, DC.
Unlike Heaven, when a body was brought to Hell, the guide didn’t waste any time making them look better. There was no point getting pretty and then heading into the fiery, monster-strewn environs of Hades.
Worm, the assembly clerk, scowled at him from across the room. The small, round man wore wire-rimmed glasses and stood in a haze of smoke that rose from the cigarette dangling between his lips. Worm didn’t like when people entered the vault without checking in.
Waiting his turn, Damian ignored the clerk and stood impatiently to the side of the high, curved platform where the assembly judges looked down on the damned. One by one, the supplicants were dragged before the judges and their guides were carefully questioned about their lives. Then the judges briefly discussed the facts and decided where the supplicant belonged. Once it was decided, the guide stepped back, and the chief judge pointed his pitchfork at the damned. In a burst of light, the supplicant would be dropped into the fiery pits beneath the floor or transferred to his new home in an outer circle of Hell.
No muss, no fuss.
An hour later, the chief judge turned his red countenance toward Damian and inclined his head. The overhead light sparked against the razor-sharp tips of the judge’s horns. When human mythology created its first representation of Satan, it had been an assembly judge they had depicted. Only the judges were squat and red with white horns and forked tails.
By contrast, the perdition guides looked like exceptionally attractive humans.
Damian moved to the spot at the center of the room where supplicants were meant to stand. He bowed slightly as five massive, red heads turned his way. The chief held his black pitchfork upright in one hand, leaning slightly against it as he peered down at Damian. “PD Damian, I trust you have come before this assembly ready and willing to perform your duties?”
Damian glared at the judge, knowing him well enough to understand the asshole was tweaking him. “Sir, I’ve never been more ready, and the only other time I’ve been this willing was when I had two supra demon females naked and writhing on the black sand beside the boiling sea. But of course that couldn’t possibly compare to this.”
The assembly chuckled darkly.
“I trust you don’t intend to whip your dick out in this instance, however,” the chief added with a wicked gleam.
“Not just yet, sir. Though I wouldn’t get me too worked up if I were you, or I won’t be responsible for the results.”
More chuckling ensued. Damian stood waiting, trying not to show his impatience. Not because he thought he’d be punished for it, but because he knew the assembly would delay his departure all that much longer if they knew how much he wanted out of there.
“I’ll bear that in mind.” The chief looked down at the granite tablet before him, running a curved, yellow claw over the words inscribed there. “Woman kills spouse when he admits her ass does look fat in her new jeans. Oh, never mind, that was last night.” The chief shook his head with disgust. “Human males are so stupid. You never tell a woman she looks fat. Even I know that. Hmm, oh yes, here it is.” He glanced up. “Your client’s name is Amanda Wright. She made the list for killing someone while driving under the influence. Ms. Wright apparently ran over an old man with her car. She’ll be ready to pick up in about two minutes. You’ll want to hurry. The white ones have instigated a quota system, and they’re not above taking ours along with theirs just to fuck us up. We always get them back, of course, but it takes hours of bookwork to set things straight.” He glared upward, his claws digging into the stone tablet with a grinding noise. “I’d like to twist those pearly sticks in their asses until they scream.”
“Sir, when you talk like that it makes me want to reach for my dick.” Damian grinned, giddy with his timeline. It would only take him a few minutes to grab the girl, drag her to the vault, and wait for the judges to proclaim. With any luck, he’d be on the beach within a couple of hours.
Grinning, the chief slammed the pitchfork into the ground to dismiss him. Damian turned away. He had about a minute to get up to the earthly plane. He started to run, barely holding back a joyful whistle as he went.
* * *
Amanda Wright stood on the sidewalk, watching the med techs work on the person sitting in the driver’s seat. They’d already carted off the victim the driver hit before wrapping her car around the light pole. The elderly gentleman’s face had been blood-covered from a head wound, but Amanda remembered seeing a gray thatch of hair and light brown eyes widening in shock before…
She frowned, her mind swirling with confusion. Where had that come from? She hadn’t seen the man before he was hit. She’d just gotten there. But she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten there, and nobody seemed to notice her standing just a few feet away from the accident. They’d made everybody else leave the scene, barricading them behind tall orange cones and yellow tape.
“What a mess.”
Amanda turned, nodding. The man standing next to her was tall, lean, and had iron gray hair that lay in coarse strands over his forehead.
“That poor man. I don’t think she even saw him.”
Her companion nodded. “She looked terrified.”
Amanda frowned, glancing at him again. The man had blood in his hair and something dark all over his black slacks. “You saw it happen?”
The man started to nod, then blinked. “I’m not sure.”
“There you are. You little scamps. Joshua Brendt and Amanda Wright?”
They turned as a slender young man dressed all in white walked up carrying a clipboard. Amanda didn’t like the look of that clipboard. “How do you know my name?”
He tapped a finger on the clipboard. “Your names are right here. And we’re just a little bit behind schedule. I apologize. So we need to get going.” The young man had thick blond hair and green eyes that sparkled. But the skin beneath the happy eyes was stained with shadows. He looked tired.
Amanda’s companion asked, “Where are we going?”
The man in white turned, pointing toward a spot in the distance where a bright, white light seemed to pulse, consuming everything around with its glow.
She frowned, panic rising in her chest. “What is that?”
A shout went up and they turned back to the accident. The car door screeched as it was wrenched open and the men working around the red SUV dove inside and then pulled back, dragging the victim out of the car with them. They laid her on the ground and Amanda gasped, her heart pounding painfully in her chest. “That’s…”
The woman on the ground had dark red hair and a pale, freckled face. Bright blood painted one side of her face, making her looking even more pallid than usual. The dead woman wore a little black dress that was hiked obscenely up one slender thigh. One shoe, its slim heel broken, hung off her foot. The other one was apparently still inside the car.
The man in white grabbed her arm. “Come on, Amanda. He’s waiting for you.”
She jerked her arm away, horror making her breath clench. A sharp, keening sound emerged from her throat. She was vaguely aware of the older man asking what was wrong with her. Her feet started to move forward. Hard, impossibly strong hands grabbed her arms, holding her back. “Come on, Amanda. We need to walk toward the light.”
She shook her head. “That can’t be me. I’m not dead. I’m just…” Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, my God! I killed that poor man.” Tears poured from her eyes.
“Amanda!” The hands closed painfully over her arms, and she was dragged backward. “The light is waiting. He’s waiting. We don’t have much time.”
The hands on her arms jerked, and the man in white swore. “Now you’ve done it.”
Amanda’s horrified gaze lifted as a tall, well-built man dressed all in black leather strode toward them. His dark blue eyes were narrowed with anger, and his jaw flexed as his hands fisted at his sides. He looked the image of aggression as he closed the distance between them.
Amanda had the thought that she should be afraid, but something about the man soothed her. Something in his eyes spoke to her. And it was obvious his anger was directed elsewhere. He stopped in front of her and reached out, clasping her hand in a large, warm grip. “Nice try, dickless. Amanda’s coming with me.”
The man in white glared back, his pretty green eyes no longer happy. “She’s on my list, demon. This one isn’t yours.”
The dark man had thick black hair, cut short to showcase lean cheeks and a strong jaw that flexed with anger. He tugged her behind him, his grip gentle but firm. “She’s ours, eunuch. Fuck off.”
“You’re wrong, and you’ll be hearing from us. He’s not going to be happy.”
“He wouldn’t be happy to know you dickless wonders get your jollies by stealing our clients, either. But I’d be happy to tell him face to face if you’d like.”
The man in white snorted. “Like we’d ever let you through the gates, demon.”
“Try and stop me, eunuch.” The man in black turned away, pulling Amanda along behind him. Before they moved away, the man in white grabbed her hand, meeting her gaze, and Amanda frowned. She heard a voice but the man’s lips weren’t moving. I’m Paul. Think my name if you need me. She slipped her hand into her pocket as the man walked away. It tingled with power from his touch.
She followed the man in leather away from the scene, relieved to see that the cars and driver were gone. In fact, the area was quiet again. All the emergency vehicles and most of the people were gone. It looked like a couple of hours had passed but it felt like seconds.
Amanda looked back as she was pulled away. The bright light in the distance was pulsing as it seemed to shrink. Giving her one last look, the man in white turned away and started walking toward the light, pulling the elderly man along with him.
“What’s going on?” Amanda finally asked.
The dark-haired man flung her a quick glance, his gaze flicking over her appreciatively. “You’re dead.”
She sucked in a breath. “Well, that was direct.”
“I don’t see any point in drawing out the inevitable. Things are only gonna get more squiggy from here. I owe it to you to make sure you’re prepared.”
She frowned. “What exactly do you mean by squiggy?” He simply shrugged and kept walking. Suddenly it all fell into place. “That was an angel, wasn’t it?”
She stopped, yanking her hand from his. “He called you demon.” Her hands flew to her head as a wave of dizziness swamped her. “Oh, my God, you’re taking me to Hell?”
“Actually, I’m a perdition guide. We’re not technically demons — we’re more like dark angels. But you can call me a demon if you want. There really isn’t a lot of difference.”
“Perdition guide? What do you do exactly?”
“I take people with stains on their souls to Hell.”
Her knees buckled and she started to fall. He caught her before she hit the ground and lifted her into his arms. Amanda started to cry. “I killed that poor man and now I’m going to Hell. Oh God… oh God… oh God.”
“Please stop saying that name. It isn’t going to buy you any points when you’re standing in front of the assembly.”
She sniffed, dragging a hand over her wet cheeks. She’d never been a sniveler when she was alive, and Amanda was damned if she was going to start sniveling now. Damned…”Oh God… oh God… oh my…”
“God dammit! Stop saying that!”
She blinked. “You said it too.”
The demon… dark angel… frowned. “Apparently you’re a bad influence on me.”
She tugged on his leather jacket. “Put me down. I want to walk.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “You sure you won’t biff again?”
“I didn’t biff. I folded under the horror of my situation. You would have done the same.”
The second black eyebrow lifted to join the first.
“Okay, maybe you wouldn’t, but you might have said, oh God… oh God… oh…”
He covered her lips with a hand. “Okay, okay, I get it. I’m setting you down now, but you better lock those knees ‘cause I’m not catchin’ you if you go down again.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes, Amanda deep in morose thoughts. She was only twenty-three years old, and she was already dead. Worse than that, she’d killed a man. A poor innocent who’d done nothing more than cross the street in front of her. She couldn’t even remember what had happened. Where had she been going when she plowed into that pole? And why had she lost control?
Snow started to fall in large, soft flakes that sparkled in the overhead illumination. Just ahead was the shopping district, complete with bright, multi-colored lights and holiday music. The little park in the center of town was filled with happy ice-skaters, and the homey smell of hot chocolate wafted past. Amanda suddenly remembered it was Christmas Day, and her spirits plunged even lower.
She sniffed, scrubbing tears off her cheeks with her hands. The demon beside her glanced over but he didn’t say anything.
“I can’t believe I’m going to Hell.”
“I’ve tried so hard to be good all my life. I went to church…”
The demon grimaced.
“I gave money to charities. I always tried to say nice things to everybody, even when I thought they were complete ass-wipes.”
“I tried never to lie, unless I thought it would spare somebody’s feelings. And I’ve led a pure life.” She looked up at him. “Do you know I never even…” She stopped. Heat suffused her face, and she looked away.
“What? You never even what?”
The demon stopped and turned to her, lifting a hand to smooth over her face. The stiff, sticky feel of dried blood disappeared from her face under his touch. “Are you telling me you’re a virgin?”
Amanda bit her bottom lip and looked at the skaters. She really wished she were on that pond right at that moment. Or anywhere but under the intense, smoldering gaze of a demon from Hell. To make things worse, even on the precipice of being damned for all eternity she couldn’t ignore the fact that he was truly hot. And he smelled yummy too.
He drew her name out like her mother used to do when Amanda wouldn’t admit to being naughty. Quick tears filled her eyes at the thought. She would miss her mom. She’d seen her family just that morning. They’d opened gifts and had Christmas brunch together. The unfairness of it all suddenly pissed her off. “What if I am?”
The demon moved closer, his heat and scent washing over her and making her private parts throb.
Amanda crossed her arms over her chest and glared at him to hide her sudden interest. “What?”
The demon’s sexy mouth curved into a slow, sensual smile. “Look up.”
Her frown deepened. “Are you going to show me more bright lights that I can’t walk into? No thanks.” She turned away, intending to step around him. “I’m not interested.”
His hand encircled her throat and she went completely still. Gently but firmly, he tipped her chin up so she was forced to look overhead. A bunch of green stuff with tiny, white berries hung overhead. It didn’t appear to be attached to anything. It was just hanging in mid-air above her. She blinked. Mistletoe? His meaning was suddenly clear.
She dropped her gaze to his, her eyes widening.
“Would you care to kiss the devil under the mistletoe?” His smile quirked upward on one side and, God help her, Amanda found it incredibly sexy.