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HELL'S BELLES    •    THE ROAD TO HELL    •     HOTTER THAN HELL     •    HELL TO PAY   
A LITTLE BIT OF HELL
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Hell’s Belles
Kensington/Zebra Books
January 2007 (trade paperback)
September 2008 (mass market)

Hell on Earth, Book 1

Jezebel’s not your average exotic dancer. For one thing, she’s a 4,000-year-old succubus. For another, she’s on the run from Hell (which isn’t easy to do in high heels). Hiding on the mortal coil as a human doesn’t protect her from muggers, lactose intolerance…or having feelings for Paul Hamilton, a man haunted by his past. Demons are closing in, which is enough to make Jezebel shiver in her G-string. But it’s her love for Paul that’s going to have deadly consequences. (Humans, she laments, really should come with instruction manuals.)

 

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Praise for Hell's Belles


"Kessler's debut novel will captivate fans of Sherrilyn Kenyon and Laurell K. Hamilton from the very first page." 4.5 stars (scorcher) Romantic Times


"Jackie Kessler is an author whose originality, style, and flair for creating such wonderfully devious and intriguingly devilish characters is sure to propel her to the top."
Top Pick Rose — Romance Reader At Heart


"Not only is this a great book, but it's possibly one of the funniest, most romantic books I've read in years." 10 Quills — Novelspot


"A wonderfully fun read with vivid and creative imagery to satisfy any fan of the supernatural."Roses and Thorns


"
Hell's Belles is smart and well done, an arresting debut by all accounts....Jezebel is a character intriguing enough to follow into future books and Kessler is a star on the rise." Paperback Reader


"Give in to the sin of temptation and pick up
Hell's Belles; you will be so glad you did!" Five Cups—Coffee Time Romance


"As a debut novel, this one will without a doubt catch a large fan base for
Jackie Kessler."
The Romance Readers Connection


"This debut work marks Ms. Kessler as an author to watch. Hell's Belles offers something for everyone; devilishly witty humor, a sassy heroine, a hunky hero and demonic creatures; what more could a reader ask for? Don't miss it!"
ParaNormal Romance

 

 

"At times scorching hot, at others unexpectedly funny, Hell's Belles will enchant paranormal fans." Romance Reviews Today


"Funny, sexy and absolutely captivating."
— 5 hearts - Love Romances and More


"Hell’s Belles had me hooked from the first sentence…I’ll be reading this one again and again."
MaryJanice Davidson, author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Undead series


"As sinful and decadent as melted chocolate on skin. A dazzling debut!"
Cathy Clamp, co-author of USA Today bestselling Touch of Evil


"A devilishly entertaining read, Hell’s Belles had me turning pages so quickly, they singed my fingertips...Wicked good!"
Martha O’Connor, author of The Bitch Posse


"Wicked, sexy, and delightfully funny, Hell's Belles is hot stuff. I'm burning to get my hands on the sequel."
JA Konrath, author of Whiskey Sour


"Jackie Kessler has one hell of an imagination! Hell's Belles is Anita Blake, Neil Gaiman, and Dante's Inferno flambéed and served with a side of sizzling paranormal romance."
Michelle Rowen, author of Angel with Attitude

 

 
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1:
CAITLIN’S HOUSE

On the night the Underworld put a contract out on me, a crescent moon dangled overhead like a celestial fishhook and stars bobbed in the sky. Just my luck. I’d been hoping for a raging thunderstorm, maybe some hail. You know, something dramatic. But no. I got picturesque.

Just another sign that Hell had gone to Heaven in a hand basket.

I threw a nervous look over my shoulder, unable to relax even though I sensed only the thrumming energy of Salem, Massachusetts, in the pre-dawn morning. Nothing infernal beeped on my psychic radar. For the moment, I was safe. Desperate and so terrified that I was pissing my metaphorical pants, but safe.

Okay. Deep breath, like the way the humans did it. There. Oh, right. Release it. Mental note: Humans breathe continuously.

Hmm. That was going to be a royal bitch to remember.

I rang the bell and waited, taking in the details of the plain wooden door. The only obvious detriments to the uninvited were a smattering of impressive-looking metal locks. The less obvious barriers included a few nasty hexes and one particularly inventive curse.

Excellent. Just the kind of help I needed.

After a few moments, I felt a presence behind the door—probably scanning me through the peephole. Putting on my game face, I grinned broadly, displaying sinfully perfect teeth.

The door inched open until the attached security chain pulled taut. A face peered through the crack. The one visible eye, very green and very wide, stared at me for a heartbeat. Then it widened even more and took on a glassy sheen. Fear wafted from her like perfume. Yummy.

Stop that, I scolded myself. You need her help. Don’t scare her to death. Yet.

“Hi, Caitlin,” I said, pouring on the charm.

I heard her swallow before she replied, “Hello, Jesse.”

My grin faltered, and I quickly pasted it back on. I’d been banking on her saying my full name. Then she would have fallen sway to my glamour and I’d be inside already, with her dancing a jig to keep me entertained, instead of me still standing on her doorstep, biting back the urge to look over my shoulder again.

Caitlin waited to see what I wanted with her, like she had all the time in the world. Sure, she wasn’t the one who had the Scourge of Hell sniffing her trail. That honor was reserved for me.

Okay, time for the mafia tactic. “You signed a contract with one of my associates. I’m here to collect.”

I heard her breath catch in her throat, and I thought I had her. Then the one eye staring at me narrowed. “If this were an official visit,” she said, “you wouldn’t have bothered ringing the doorbell. You would’ve just materialized inside. Besides, since when does one of your kind do collections for the Hecate?”

Crap. “You want an answer, or was that rhetorical?”

“Goodbye, Jesse.” She shut the door.

“Wait!” Hating myself, I said the magic word. “Please.”

A pause, and then I heard the chain sliding free. Caitlin opened the door far enough to reveal her entire face, round and proud and framed with black curly hair. Let’s hear it for insatiable curiosity. I flashed her my best Adorable Female grin.

She said, “Swear on your name that you mean me no harm, that you’ll do me no harm, that you will bring me no harm.”

I checked myself before I rolled my eyes. Friggin’ witches and their oaths. “On my name, I so swear it.” Of course, after tonight, my name didn’t mean squat. But I didn’t see any need to bring that up.

Caitlin opened her door wide. “Enter.”

I sauntered through the doorway, my hips sashaying and breasts jiggling. It was part of my Farrah Fawcett Look, circa 1978, complete with frosted, flipped blonde hair.

“What’re you supposed to be?” Caitlin asked as I pranced by, my boobs nearly hitting my chin with every bouncing step.

“A Charlie’s Angel.”

I heard a snort, and I glanced over my shoulder to see her hiding a smile behind her hand. Maybe she was terrified of me. Maybe she’d just invited me into her place of power, despite her better judgment. But she still had to admit I had a sense of humor.

Caitlin flipped on a light, and I blinked as my eyes adjusted, taking in the contents of the small living room off the entrance. On the pale walls hung pictures of mountains, pompous in their purples and browns. Candlesticks poked up from holders set among the windowsill to my right; the faint stench of jasmine still clung to the air. Two large sofas, overstuffed with pillows, dominated the space. Each propped against a wall, the couches squatted like bloated spiders. Well, minus the eyes, legs and webs…and overlooking the creamy white coloring.

Okay, so maybe they weren’t exactly reminiscent of insects. But hey, I couldn’t help but look for the dark in things. You could take the demon out of Hell, but taking the Hell out of the demon required a lot more work. And that’s where Caitlin came in.

“Have a seat,” she said.

Choosing the sofa nearer to the door, I plopped down, and my boobs followed. Crossing my long, tanned legs, I leaned back into the pillows and dazzled her with my Farrah smile.

She clearly wasn’t impressed. Caitlin glanced outside before she shut and locked the door. A mutter under her breath told me that she’d reactivated her magic wards. Something in my chest loosened as I realized I was under the witch’s protection. Not like she’d be much more than a nuisance to my pursuer, but still, it was comforting.

Bless me, I really was getting soft.

Caitlin hid a yawn behind her hand as she approached the other couch. I’d obviously woken her; she was decked out in a green flannel nightshirt, and her curly black hair was so sleep-tousled that it looked like she’d used an entire can of hairspray to get it to stand up that high. Too bad it wasn’t the 1980s—she’d have been incredibly stylish.

She sat, folding her legs beneath her and nearly disappearing into the cushions. Because she radiated such power, I tended to forget how small she was physically—maybe she reached five-foot-four. Strong witches really should be taller. She asked, “What brings you here, Jesse?”

I tried to think of something witty to say, but what popped out of my red-lipsticked mouth was, “I need your help.”

Mental note: When bargaining with mortals who have something you need, don’t tell them how much you need it.

She tapped her chin as she looked at me, her large green eyes thoughtful. Her face had a surprisingly sharp nose and chin, offsetting her full cheeks and cupid-bow lips. Attractive, in a second-glance sort of way. A little makeup, and introducing her hair to a brush, would do wonders. “What would you ask of me?”

Licking my lips, I said, “Can you turn me into a mortal?”

She blinked. Then she blinked again. Finally she asked, “Why?”

“I’m sort of AWOL.”

“You’re what?”

“And some lower-downs aren’t too pleased about that.” Actually, that was putting it mildly. If I got caught, the very best I could hope for was a millennium in the Lake of Fire. I didn’t want to think about what the worst would be.

Staring at me, she said, “What on earth could make a demon run away from Hell?”

I shook my head. “Sorry. That’s the bonus round.”

“Jesse—”

“Look,” I said, catching her gaze with my own. “It’s like this, okay? I ran away from Hell, just like you said. And now something’s after me, ready to drag me back, kicking and screaming. So I need to get off the demon radar and blend with the flesh puppets. That’s all you get, Caitlin. Now, can you turn me into a mortal or not?”

Her face darkened as her mouth pulled down into a deep frown. “If you want my help, you have to answer my questions.”

“And you have to understand that there are some things too dangerous for you to know. Unless,” I added lightly, “you want Hell to come after you too.”

She blanched, and I caught the intoxicating scent of terror. My nostrils flared as I inhaled deeply. Maybe the whole breathing thing had its perks.

“If I help you, what do I get out of it?”

“You mean, besides the pleasure of a job well done?”

She didn’t even blink. Bless me, these so-called white witches weren’t as altruistic as they claimed. At least, not Caitlin.

I said, “What about that whole ‘Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you’ thing?”

Her eyes gleamed, and I knew I’d made a mistake. “So you’d be in my debt? If I help you now, then you need to help me when I need it?”

Crap. “Sure—assuming it’s within my power. I mean, I can’t go and make you immortal, or grant you three wishes, or anything like that. And it’s a one-time offer. No coming back to me, demanding more and more help. You help me now, and I help you once, when you need it.”

“Deal.” She spat into her palm, then leaned forward, sticking out her hand.

I followed suit. Our palms touched, and my flesh itched where our saliva mingled. Some people think you need blood to make agreements like this. While blood’s nice, any bodily fluid would make the contract just as binding.

“Now,” she said, wiping her hand on her nightshirt, “let’s make you a mortal.”

# # #

I thumbed through a magazine while I waited for Caitlin’s potion to brew. The cover story promised to teach me “ten tantalizing tips” guaranteed to drive my partner wild. I had to see what passed for “tantalizing” these days. I was willing to bet it didn’t include snakes and honey.

“Here we go.”

I glanced up to see Caitlin gliding up to me, mopping back her unruly black curls, looking incredibly proud. In her hand, steam wafted from a large mug. About time. It had taken her a half-hour to gather and mix all the ingredients, and nearly two hours for it to do the fire-burn-and-cauldron-bubble thing. I didn’t know how long slumming in Salem, hidden in a witch’s house, would disguise my presence from my hunter; with every passing moment, my unease had grown. But now it looked like the waiting was about to pay off.

Setting the magazine aside, I frowned at the cup as she thrust it at me. “What’s that smell?”

“Number of things. Moth’s cocoon, egg, milk, powdered ivory. Blood, of course. Mercury, but there’s no smell to that. Water, a tampon—”

“It’s the milk,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “Ick. How do you people stand that?”

She looked affronted, as if I’d pointed out a pile of fresh dog turds on her area rug. “Dairy’s an important food group. You need milk.”

“Sure, if you’re a baby cow. Ugh, revolting stuff.” Making a face, I peered inside the mug. The potion stank to high Heaven, and it looked just as appetizing. Brown with white fungus-like flecks, the liquid was just thick enough for me to make out the congealing blood, but still watery overall. “And this looks like it came out from the baby cow’s other end.”

“It’s Gala Tea.”

I shook my frosted, flipped mane of hair. “Never heard of it.”

“Actually, the full name is ‘Potion of Pygmalion.’ The nickname’s just some witching humor. You know, Pygmalion the sculptor? From the myth? Prayed to Aphrodite for a wife just like the statue he carved, and Aphrodite brought the sculpture to life? He named the statue Galatea.” Her full lips twitched into a smile. “Get it? Galatea, Gala Tea?”

“Sweetie,” I said after a long pause, “don’t quit your day job.”

“You don’t have to be mean about it,” she mumbled.

I blew out a sigh, lifting my bangs away from my eyes. “What, you expect me to be nice? I’m a demon.”

“Not after you drink this, you’re not. Now look, here’s the thing: this will transform you into whatever your outer image is. So unless you want to be stuck looking like a one-time star of jiggle television, you should probably re-think your appearance.”

I raised my arms high and let a ripple of power wash over me. My hair curled and darkened until it was a thick, tangled mass framing a round face with wide green eyes, a sharp nose, and a mouth with cupid-bow lips. My breasts diminished a cup size, and my frame shrank until I was a petite woman of five-foot-four, small and lean instead of tall and curvy. When I grinned, my teeth clamped down in a slight overbite. Sayonara, Farrah. Hello, Caitlin.

The look on her face was priceless. I didn’t know if it was because I was wearing her form or because I was naked. She yelled, “Stop that!”

I blew her a kiss. “First give me the potion.”

“Fine,” she said, shoving the cup into my hands. “Here. Now would you please change into something else? And put on some clothes?”

“In a moment.” The nauseating stench of sweet milk emanating from the mug made me want to gag. “How’s this work? I drink it, and poof, I’m mortal?”

Frowning at me, she seemed lost between answering my question and being annoyed at my temporary appearance. Her pride in her abilities won out. Seven deadly sins—got to love them. “Well, not exactly.” She ran her fingers through her hair, brushing thick curls away from her face. “It will lock you into mortal form. No soul, of course. But still human. So you’ll have to take care of all your human needs.”

“Like sex?” I perked up. “I can do that.”

“That’s procreation, which you can’t do. No soul, remember? No little demonites for you.”

I pouted. Sex was important, even if it wasn’t to make babies. It was…exercise. Right, exercise. And I had to exercise my new human body. Oooh. This had possibilities.

“Listen,” Caitlin said, dragging me away from lascivious thoughts. “This is important. If you use any infernal abilities, it will cancel the spell.”

Crap. Why did these things always have a catch? “Meaning?”

“Meaning that if you use any of your powers, the jig is up, and whatever’s chasing you will be able to track you again.”

“So on top of remembering to breathe, I have to restrain myself from seducing men and sucking out their souls? Isn’t there a learning curve or something?”

She tapped her chin as she thought. “Well, if you had an item like a Shield against Evil, that would do double duty. It would cut you off from your own power, and it’d hide your power from…well, your former associates.”

“Perfect! I’ll take one of those.”

A smile played across her round face. “If you want another favor, Jesse, then you need to give me something in addition.”

Ooh, wasn’t she the confident little witch? Getting greedy with a creature of the Pit, eh? Sure, I was in her place of power, and I was there to beg a favor. But that didn’t mean she should forget who I was…and what I could do.

“You’re right,” I said, giving her a tiny, helpless smile, setting her at ease. “I’ll give you something.” Then I pushed, just a little—nothing to set off any of her wards, just a tickle of desire. Hetero was way more my thing, but I’d done the Sapphic route in my time. Caitlin was one of those free-spirited mortals who saw the inherent beauty in all living things, blah blah. In other words, she pitched for both teams. A whisper of power, blowing her way, settling over her like dander. She sneezed…

…and looked into my face, and I watched her eyes darken and heard her heartbeat quicken. I licked my lips slowly, suggestively, and her lips parted in return. A sound escaped from her mouth, the softest of ohhhs, as her eyes lost their focus. I caught the spice of her sex as her body responded to my invisible touch, saw her nipples harden beneath her flannel nightshirt, watched her undo first one button, then the next…

My voice soft so I wouldn’t pull her out of her trance, I purred, “Say my name.”

Her fingers opened the third button, and her right breast poked out from the opening in her clothing. In a breathy whisper, she said, “Jezebel.”

Bingo.

“Caitlin, you mentioned a Shield Against Evil.” I kept my voice pitched low; even though calling my name while under my power bound her to me, she was still a ridiculously strong witch. The wrong tone, or pushing her too hard to do something against her nature, could break my control over her. “Do you have one of those shields here, lying around?”

“Mmmm.” Now her shirt was completely unfastened, and her hand was moving down between her legs. “Yes…”

“Sweetie, I need you to get it. Wrap it up in a towel and bring it to me. Don’t touch it directly with your skin.”

Her hand paused, fingers buried in her cotton panties. “Now?”

“Now.”

With a sigh, she stood and padded out of the room, her open nightshirt flapping around her like a robe.

Okay, she’d give me the shield, I’d drink the nasty brew, and everything would be fine—

A small buzz whined in my ears. I tensed, sitting up straight as I tentatively reached out, stretching my power…

…and was slapped away.

Shit! I stole a glance out the window. It was still dark out, but the sky already had that lush purple look that meant sunrise was right around the corner. The humans were waking up. A stray car or two motored by, mortals on their way to somewhere; across the street, a light was on in an upstairs room.

And somewhere out there, my pursuer had honed in on me. I didn’t know how much time I had before I was found—maybe a few minutes, maybe as much as an hour. In my hands, the mug of witch’s brew trembled.

Caitlin walked back into the room, her eyes vacant, her arms wrapped around a blue towel. “I brought it for you…”

Excellent. With both the potion and the talisman in my possession, I could make like a shepherd and get the flock out of there. I wasn’t about to put Caitlin at risk, especially not after that blessed oath she’d made me say. Last thing I needed was for the Hecate to come after me; there’s nothing like a deity with a hair up its ass to really take the spring out of one’s step. “Much obliged, sweetie.”

I grabbed the bundle from her hands—a bit too roughly, because she blinked once, blinked again and said, “Jesse…? What—”

The buzzing in my ears turned into a full-blown scream just as something slammed against Caitlin’s front door: BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!

Casting aside all hints of subtlety, I hurled my power at Caitlin. She gasped, then a dazed look settled over her as she swayed on her feet.

“Hear only my voice, Caitlin,” I commanded her, somehow keeping my voice steady. “Lie down on the couch and close your eyes.”

Glancing at the door, I saw it still held. For now. Nothing had burst through, which meant Caitlin’s ward was way, way stronger than I’d hoped it would be. The beastie outside was only knocking; out of either respect for the witch’s power or out of fear for her patron goddess, my hunter was being polite. That meant I had a moment or two to spare. Yay, me.

Turning back to my enchanted witch, I was going to tell her to sleep, but instead I gave her a small gift. I hadn’t meant to lead trouble to her door; the least I could do was show her a good time. “Picture your fantasy lover, the one whom you’ve always wanted. Your lover is here with you, Caitlin. Your lover is with you now, kissing you up and down.”

She moaned, her body arching, her exposed flesh dimpling from the touch of her imaginary partner. Another crash sounded against the door, like something huge and heavy pounding against it. BOOM! The demon outside was getting impatient. Had to be a male; we females were used to waiting.

Over the noise I said, “Let your lover seduce you, Caitlin. Give yourself over completely, with no restraint.” In a burst of inspiration I added, “When you climax, you will forget I was ever here. And then you’ll sleep for the rest of the day.”

Letting out a cry of pleasure, she moved her body, arms reaching up to encircle nothing.

I’d say that getting Caitlin out of a rampaging demon’s way safely counted as me helping her when she needed it. All debts were cancelled.

Again, a BOOM!!! against the door, which buckled slightly from the force. I was out of time.

“Right,” I said aloud, the wrapped shield in one hand, the steaming mug in the other. “Bottom’s up.” And I gulped down the potion.

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