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Hell To Pay
Kessler Ink
February 2011 (e-book)

Hell on Earth, Book 4

After turning her back on Hell and becoming human, the former demon Jezebel -- now the mortal dancer Jesse Harris -- is ready to settle down with her true love, Paul Hamilton, and make with the Happily Ever After. But that's not in the cards. Jesse is accidentally wielding her former Hellish power -- with devastating results. Another former succubus has targeted Paul. Someone is killing the dancers at Jesse's club. And the King of Hell is leading the world to the brink of Armageddon. All in all, it's not looking good for Jesse, or for anyone she loves. And there's going to be . . .

HELL TO PAY
By Jackie Kessler
 
In this fourth and final Hell on Earth novel, everything changes.

 

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Excerpt

PROLOGUE

“You’ve got mail,” Paul called out as he banged around in the kitchen.

“Thanks,” I said, yawning hugely. I unzipped my winter coat, vowing never again to do a double shift at the club. Sure, the money was fabulous. But after eight hours of dancing in five-inch heels, my feet were threatening amputation and my knees were filing a lawsuit. And I felt like I could sleep for a hundred years. Even if Paul had time for a quickie, which I knew he didn’t, I would probably say no.

Heh. I’d actually thought that with a straight face. Like I’d ever say no to sex with Paul. I might be exhausted, but I wasn’t dead. (And even when I’d been dead, I’d still had sex with Paul. But that’s another story.)

Another slam from the kitchen, and the sound of glass rattling. I guessed that my man was searching for his favorite travel mug. He was all too happy to serve and protect, but don’t ask him to do it without his morning coffee. If Paul was any indicator, pre-caffeinated cops were as growly as a demon in a tutu. Think Swan Lake meets Jaws.

Granted, the “morning” part was hedging; 3:35 a.m. pushed the boundary between Very Late and Very Early. Bedtime for me, but the start of the workday for Paul. For today, anyway; lately, neither of our schedules seemed to be the same for more than two days in a row.

I called out: “It’s in the draining rack.”

A moment of silence, then the sounds of cups and bowls getting placed none too gently onto the counter. Now Paul’s voice, relieved if rushed: “Thanks, hon.”

Yes, I’d learned how to do dishes. It clearly was a sign that the Apocalypse was approaching. (Actually, the Apocalypse was approaching. I expected it to start raining toads any day now. The idea that the world would be ending in the near future depressed me, so I tried not to think about it.)

My brain was fuzzy, so it wasn’t until I’d shrugged out of my coat that Paul’s first words to me actually registered: I had mail. In my six months as a flesh-and-blood mortal, I’d never gotten mail. Not bills, not invitations, not even those catalogues that spit out reply cards like a hooker rinsing after a blowjob. “Is it junk mail?”

“Nope. Postcard.”

Ooh — someone had actually written to me! That was one more thing I could mark off on my Human Accomplishments list. Received Personal Mail? Check. I’d also recently checked off Completed Annual Physical — both the regular and the ob/gyn kind, and let me just say that playing doctor is way more fun than going to the actual thing — and Survived Dentist Visit. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have sworn the hygienist was actually a demon of Pride; bless me, she’d been all too happy to jam instruments of torture into my mouth. I was still waiting for my chance to check off Made A Telemarketer Cry. It’s good to have goals.

I hung up my coat in the hall closet and pulled out Paul’s jacket: a very sexy bomber I’d given to him for Christmas. It still had that heady leather smell I loved so much. Mmm, cattlehide. I’d felt rather heretical when I’d bought the jacket for Paul in December. Asking me to celebrate Jesus’ birth was akin to giving a Hassidic Jew a bacon-cheeseburger and asking him to eat up. There was still enough succubus in me that the very notion of Christmas made me shudder. Most infernal creatures won’t even say Christ’s name without evil-eying themselves. The only thing the nefarious look forward to during Christmastime is gorging on the drunken faux Santas who steal charity money from the Salvation Army. But for Paul, I’d done the tree-decorating thing and even managed to watch a holiday special or two (the Heat Miser is just too cute). And I’d given Paul his present. He’d loved it — and then had loved me, hotcha! — and it had become his jacket of choice. Every time I see him wear it now, my heart leaps high enough to qualify for the Olympics, and I get a goofy grin on my face. Love does weird things to people.

Closing the closet door, I called out, “Who sent me a postcard?”

“Don’t know. Saw it was for you, and that’s all I read. Left it for you on the coffee table.”

That made me smile. Of course he hadn’t read the card. My man was a paragon of lawful purity and would never read someone else’s mail without a warrant. I loved him despite his White Knight tendencies. Or maybe because of them. Opposites attract, from what I’ve heard.

I met Paul halfway to the kitchen, offering him his coat in exchange for a kiss. He was happy to oblige. His lips pressed against mine, and I closed my eyes, enjoying the taste of him, the feel of him — a hint of bliss, a small touch of forever. Despite me swaying on my feet from fatigue and him running late for work, I considered throwing him against the wall and doing far more than kiss him. But his captain loved to give Paul a hard time (in a very different way than I did), so Paul was being even more by the book than usual. Thus, no tardiness for him, and no sex for us. Alas. I settled for the deliciously soft kiss, one much more tender than consuming. One that ended much too soon. Alas, again.

My lips already missing his, I opened my eyes to find Paul smiling at me — oh, that lopsided, lovely smile. As he slid on his jacket, he said, “Have a great day, hon.”

“You too. When will you be home?”

“God willing, no later than six. You?”

“On shift tonight starting at eight.”

His eyes sparkled like sunlight winking on the ocean’s surface. With a wicked grin, he said, “So we’ll have at least an hour’s overlap.”

That’s all we had lately, thanks to our conflicting work schedules: snatches of intimacy, stolen moments of passion. Paul Hamilton and Jesse Harris: two ships passing in the night. With the occasional cannon fire between the sheets. “There’s lots of ways to fill sixty minutes,” I said wistfully, looking at Paul’s cannon.

“And I’m thinking of at least three of them.”

I do so love my man.

Another kiss, a quick “love you,” and then he was gone, travel mug in hand, off to save the world. Again.

I sleepwalked into the living room, nearly stumbling into the wall as another jaw-splitting yawn got the best of me. As Paul had said, on the coffee table was a postcard. Hmm. Read it now, or wait until after six-plus hours of snoozing? Curiosity did a brief arm-wrestle with Exhaustion and came through as the winner. I picked up the card.

The front was completely black, with the phrase “ATLANTIS AT NIGHT” in light blue, wavy letters at the bottom.

I arched a brow. Atlantis, huh?

Flipping the card over, I saw my name and address in the “To” section. In the memo portion of the postcard was a series of squiggles that at first were just garbled nonsense. Then I blinked, and I recognized the language. Phoenician. I hadn’t realized I still possessed the demon trait of comprehending all languages, whether written or spoken. Very cool. And yet somehow, Ikea instructional diagrams still confused the fuck out of me. Go figure.

Wait. My name and address were printed in English, but the actual message wasn’t. I hadn’t just gotten personal mail; I’d gotten a secret message. Ooh. Maybe someone wanted me to be a spy. Sweet! I had the perfect trench coat and hat I could wear — one of my stage sets at Spice was me dressing like a secret agent and stripping to “Private Eyes.”

It occurred to me that perhaps I was too tired to be reading the postcard now.

Nah.

There were four written lines on the card. It took me a minute to translate the modern meaning from the ancient words:

QUIT THE DAY JOB!

USE IT WELL.

CONGRATULATIONS!

— Meg

And the postmark showed next week’s date.

I didn’t realize I was sitting down until I felt the lumpy sofa under me.

Meg, as in Megaera, one of the three Furies as well as one of the seven most powerful entities in the Universe. She was also my best friend, and currently on vacation. Apparently, in Atlantis. I looked at the postmark again. Yep, definitely next week’s date on it. One of the perks the Furies had was they could see the future. I hadn’t known about sending messages from the future, though. Live and learn.

I reread the first line. Quit the day job? Since when do the Furies do stints as career advisors?

Frowning, I stared at the Phoenician letters, trying to see where I’d screwed up the translation. But I hadn’t. Scanning the rest of the message again, I decided that “congratulations” didn’t sound bad, whatever it was for, and I had no idea what Meg was referring to with the command to use “it” well.

But the thing that made me grind my teeth was that first line. Meg was bluntly telling me to stop stripping at the club. Why would she do something like that, other than to piss me off? It’s not like there are a lot of options a one-time succubus could choose from to make a decent buck. Legally, that is. Paul’s standards had definitely rubbed off on me.

Besides, Meg knew how much I loved my job, how good I felt having men lust after me. How much I thrived on dancing in the spotlight. So why tell me to quit? Meg wasn’t one to judge…

Um, no, actually, that’s not true. As one of the three Erinyes, Meg was all about the judgment. That was her job, when she wasn’t vacationing in Atlantis.

But Meg would never judge me

Okay, no, also not true. She’d judged me all those months ago, found me guilty, and led me to my death. Sort of. The jury was still out on that one. Judge and jury; condemned to death by the Fury. If Daunuan were here, he’d tell me I was murdering Lewis Carroll. I giggled, thinking of how many times I’d explain to Daun that poetry was best left to interpretation.

Then I sighed. Hooboy, I was tired.

I read the postcard again. The message hadn’t changed: quit, use it well, congratulations.

No epiphanies came to me. It still made no sense.

With a shrug, I tossed the card onto the table, then rubbed my eyes. I wondered if there was a rulebook for far-seeing entities that insisted on them using obscure warnings and enigmatic messages. Or maybe they just got off on being annoying. Probably both.

I got up from the sofa and made my way into the bathroom and began my nighttime routine of makeup removal, face washing, and teeth brushing. As I rinsed soap off my face, I decided that the only thing worse than decoding cryptic messages when utterly exhausted was going food shopping when you were hungry and PMSing. I was sure the postcard would make sense after a good night of sleep.

# # #

But seven hours later, the postcard had vanished.

Of course.

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