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A Hell of a Time
Eternal Lover anthology
Kensington Publishing Corp.
April 2008 (trade paperback)
April 2009 (mass market)

Hell on Earth novella

Jesse and Paul to go the Catskills for a romantic weekend getaway. And no matter what else happens, Jesse will make sure that for the weekend, Paul isn't reminded of her demonic history—she means to convince him that she can be just a regular human woman, with no infernal baggage. But a lurking evil presence has different plans for Jesse and Paul...and what Jesse learns about herself will change her forever.

 

 

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Praise for Eternal Lover


"If you've never met Jesse and Paul, you're sure to seek out the two previous books in the Hell on Earth series after reading this story; if you have met them, boy are you in for some urprises....Hannah Howell and Lynsay Sands have contributed two classic tales (first released in HIS IMMORTAL EMBRACE, 2003) to this enchanting anthology, and Jackie Kessler and Richelle Mead's new stories fit well with them making ETERNAL LOVER a book that shouldn't be missed. All four authors are sure to have legions of fans joining the ranks of all those who have already discovered that when any of them releases a book, it should immediately be urchased."Romance Reviews Today

"Hell of a Time is a heck of a fun read. This short story gave me a glimpse at an entertaining storyline with characters established in Kessler's much-lauded debut novel Hell's Belles. The writing is sexy, sassy, and slightly supernatural--a great page-turner." Coffee Time Romance

"An interesting combination of alternate presents and magical pasts, these stories bring the reader romance and magic, along with a bit of humor and love. The stories by Kessler and Mead are more enjoyable if the reader is familiar with their previous books."Romantic Times

"Combined together, these four authors have created a great anthology perfect for the weekend get-a way. They will definitely get you in the mood romantically!"The Romance Readers Connection

"How much more original can you get than having a sassy,
succubus-turned-mortal woman battle it out against the minions of Mother Nature with her cop-turned-White Knight boyfriend by her side? Everything about this story was original, creative and fun, and sucked me right in with all it's jazzy dialogue and unique characters."
Romance Reader at Heart

 

 
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

“You really don’t want to do this,” I said to the woman behind me with the knife. Never mind that the blade was a cute thing that had popped out of a pen; the serrated edge felt pretty freaking un-cute against my throat.

“Shut up,” she hissed, pulling my hair back to expose more of my neck. “This is all your fault.”

“Mine?”

“You took it from me. You stole it from right under my nose.”

“But I didn’t,” I said, trying to be the voice of reason with a lunatic who wanted to slice me open with a penknife. And before seven in the morning, no less. “I was ahead of you on line.”

“It was mine! I’ve been dreaming about it, I’ve waited all week for this, saved up for it. And you ruined everything.”

Her fist tightened in my hair, and my roots whimpered. I clenched my teeth, biting back a curse. All I’d wanted was to surprise Paul with a treat, and this was my thanks? Getting accosted in the store by someone who’d missed their morning dose of sanity? Bless me, I was never, ever doing anything out of the goodness of my heart, ever again. Served me right; altruism wasn’t exactly my strong suit.

Squeezed against her ample body, her knife at my throat, I said, “Lady, it’s just a doughnut…”

“A marble frosted doughnut,” a voice oozed. “With sprinkles. Mmmm.”

Oh, crap.

My bravado melted like chocolate in the sun, and my heart careened in my chest. I didn’t need to smell brimstone to recognize a demon of Gluttony—none of the other nefarious sound like flies having an orgy in a honey pot. But now that my mind was blaring “Demon! Demon! Demon!” at DEFCON 1, my senses couldn’t help but hone in on the creature of Hunger: around the cloying sweetness of powdered sugar and the rich scent of coffee from the doughnut shop, I smelled hints of rotten eggs. Despite the fear turning my mouth sour and coating my tongue, I began to salivate. My stomach knotted, and all at once I wanted to stuff my face and run like fuck.

Maybe worst of all, I couldn’t even let myself react to the Glutton’s presence, because technically I shouldn’t have been able to sense it—not even the woman it was trying to influence knew it was there. Just me, thanks to my connection to Hell.

Sometimes, being a former demon truly sucked.

“A marble frosted doughnut,” the woman screamed in my ear. I flinched, then grunted when the knife bit into my neck. “With sprinkles!”

“And she took it from you.” I heard the demon sigh mournfully. “You’ll never feel its sweetness on your tongue, never feel its buttery deliciousness slide down your throat. All that pleasure, gone. All because of her.”

Shit. With one of the nefarious goading her on, the woman might really slice me over a breakfast food she probably didn’t even spell properly.

“You took it from me.” She pressed the knife up until it hit the bottom of my jaw. Fuuuuuck, that’s sharp. If I swallowed, I’d have a second mouth. Right, this is me, not swallowing. The woman whispered in my ear, “Gone. All because of you.”

Behind the counter, the clerk had her hands up in a placating “Don’t Do Anything Bloody” gesture. “Ma’am, I’d be really happy to get you another doughnut.”

“Hey, take mine,” I said. “It’s only a little dirty from getting dropped on the floor.”

The woman snarled, “You’d have me eat germs?”

Great, gluttons were fussy eaters. Who knew? “I’m sure the five-second rule gets extended under extenuating circumstances…” The jab to my throat shut me up. Gleep.

“Why don’t you let the lady go,” the clerk said, “and show me which one you want? On the house?”

“I want the marble frosted. With sprinkles.”

“Ma’am, the shipment we got this morning was light on that particular kind. But I’ve got chocolate frosted, chocolate glazed, chocolate cream—”

The woman bellowed, “Did I say I wanted chocolate? No. I want my marble frosted doughnut, with sprinkles! I’ve saved up my points, and I’ve waited all week, and I’m not going to miss it because this skinny slut got here first!”

My eyes bugged. Skinny? That bitch!

“You should kill the slut,” the demon suggested. “Show the doughnut vendor how serious you are.”

Hooboy.

Crazy Lady was sweating, and I was unpleasantly close to her armpit. Maybe if we weren’t having a heat wave in December, she’d be wearing a coat over her shirt and the odor wouldn’t be so eye watering. Then again, if we were having a proper New York City winter, I never would have burrowed out from under the covers to go on a doughnut run and wouldn’t be in this situation. “I should kill you,” she said to me, and I felt her spittle hit my ear like froth. “Show you just how serious I am.”

“I have no doubt that you are dead serious.” Okay, Jesse. Think. How do you get the knife away from her?

Crap, I had no idea. Four thousand years as a succubus had sort of made me dependent on magic for self-defense. Not so helpful now that I was a human with no magic other than a flaky ability to sometimes see auras. A human who would die very easily if Crazy Lady slit my throat. Mental note: learn karate.

“Ma’am,” said the clerk, “please, put the knife down…”

“Not until I get my doughnut!”

“What’s all the noise…oh. Oh, shit!” That from a pimply-faced kid who came trouncing out of a back room, who now froze as he saw Crazy Lady and the knife. I felt the woman shift behind me, probably turned her head to see who’d arrived. And her hand gripping my hair loosened its hold, just a little.

Opportunity, meet door.

I grabbed her knife hand across the wrist and yanked her arm away from my neck. Or tried to; tough to untangle yourself from a large attacker when you’re just five-foot-four. At least I’d gotten the blade off of my skin, but her thick arm was still wrapped around me, now at mouth-level.

The Glutton roared: “Kill the bitch!”

Crazy Lady tried to force the knife back to my throat, but I did what any good bitch would do: I chomped down on her forearm. Hard.

She let out a whopper of a shriek and released my hair. Bracing against her arm, I stomped on her foot: one-hundred-ten pounds of pissed off (and slightly terrified) female compressed into a Stuart Weitzman three-inch heel. Scrunch!

The shriek tapered into a high-pitched wail, and she dropped the knife.

I spat her arm out of my mouth, then pivoted away from her and grabbed the weapon from the floor. I held it up in front of me, and never mind how badly my hands were shaking—I had the knife, and Crazy Lady was blubbering in a heap, moaning about her arm and getting a rabies shot. All was good, except for the salty, vaguely chickenish taste in my mouth. Maybe I was misremembering, but people had tasted better when I’d been a creature of the Pit.

Off to the left, the demon hissed.

Shit. Amendment: all was good, except for the evil entity squatting near the woman. Biting my lip, I kept my gaze on Crazy Lady and forced myself to ignore the quivering mass of demon that I wasn’t supposed to see. See no evil, fear no evil…

Oh, screw that. I’d been evil long enough to know there was plenty to fear.

“Wow. That was so cool!”

Glancing over my shoulder, I saw the female clerk punching numbers on her cell phone—the police, I assumed—and the pimply-faced kid staring at me like he was in love. Aw, that was sweet. His eyes widened, and with a huge grin he said, “Hey—you’re Jezebel!” He turned to the other clerk. “This is Jezebel, the stripper!”

Ah, the lovestruck young thing was an adoring fan. I flashed him a smile, but it didn’t sit right on my face; my muscles didn’t want to work properly. And my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Being afraid as a human wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had been to cause fear as a demon.

The other doughnuteer held up a “Give Me A Second, Will You” finger and spoke crisply into her phone: a customer in her store went nuts, attacked another customer with a knife, no one’s dead but could you please cart the woman away pronto?

Yeah, that was about the size of it, minus the demon. I turned back to face Crazy Lady, who was weeping, cradling her bitten arm and staring forlornly at the doughnuts behind the counter. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the Glutton watch the woman. It could still try to influence her, even though it looked like all the fight had gotten zapped—or bitten—out of her. My jaw throbbed, and I tasted salt on my tongue. Blech.

“Cops’re on the way,” the female clerk said.

“Terrific.” I most definitely didn’t miss the irony that I’d nearly gotten killed while getting breakfast for my cop boyfriend, who was still in bed. Some days, I think God really loves to fuck with me.

“You want to press charges, ma’am?”

“No,” I said, “that’s okay. She’s got enough troubles.” And based on how the demon was watching her with hunger in its glowing eyes, she’d have a Hell of a lot more troubles once she died. But that wasn’t my problem.

“Are you still dancing?” the pimply kid said.

“Yeah, at Spice.”

“Over on Lex?”

“That’s the one.”

The female clerk said to him, “You go to strip clubs? Ew.”

“What? They play the game there on the plasma screens.”

“That’s like saying you buy Hustler for the articles.”

Playboy. For the interviews.”

I distinctly felt my brain slip.

As the two clerks bantered over the merits of skin mags, I peripherally watched a massive shape reach for the fallen marble-frosted doughnut. Yes, munch on the yummy cake, and leave me alone, there’s a good demon…It slobbered up the pastry, then smacked its lips and belched. Then it let out a contented sigh.

I leaned back against the counter and blew out a very relieved breath. Looked like Jesse Harris wasn’t on the menu this morning. Yay, me.

That’s when my body said, “Holy fuck in Heaven, you were nearly killed just now over a freaking doughnut,” and my legs decided to stop working. I slid down to my haunches and focused on not hyperventilating.

“You’re really a stripper?” the clerk asked me, leaning over the counter.

“Actually,” I said from the floor, “I prefer ‘exotic dancer’.”

“And your name’s really Jezebel?”

“Stage name.” Among other things.

Crazy Lady was rocking on the floor, babbling about the evils of processed foods. She still didn’t see the Glutton spitting-distance from her, picking its fangs. And it didn’t really notice me; to it, I was just another flesh puppet, one blissfully ignorant of the nefarious walking among the humans.

Thank Gehenna for small favors. Even if it couldn’t claim me for Hell—I was many things, but a glutton wasn’t one of them—it could still try to play mind games with me. And my nerves were too shot to try to match wits with a demon. All I wanted to do was get back to Paul’s apartment, bury myself in blankets, and forget this morning happened. Well, after a quickie, anyway. (I had my priorities.)

The clerk cleared her throat, yanking me out of my daydream of me diving into bed with Paul there to catch me. “Ma’am, may I have the knife, please?”

“What? Oh, yeah.” I slowly pulled myself up and forced myself to turn away from the woman sitting on the floor and the demon loitering near her—digesting, as far as I could tell. It still hadn’t noticed me. Score one for the ex-succubus. Sliding the penknife to the clerk, I said, “Uh, so, can I get two doughnuts and coffees to go?”

“We’re out of marble frosted.”

“I’ll live.” Thankfully. “Give me two double chocolates.”

The doughnuteers gave me my order for free, which turned out to be a box of a dozen, plus two ultrasaurus-sized steaming cups of liquid caffeine. Paul would be thrilled; he had a big appreciation for doughnuts and coffee. I thanked the clerks as I carefully balanced the cups and the box. No way was I staying to talk to the police; I didn’t want to be introduced to the criminal justice system. Besides, my very own cop was waiting for me.

“Be seeing you,” said the lovestruck young thing as I walked away. Aw. He really was a sweetie.

As I shied around Crazy Lady, the Glutton hiccoughed, then looked right at me. Eep.

Grinning around a mouthful of fangs, it said in my mind: Be seeing you. Then it disappeared in a cloud of sulfur.

Shit.

I really need a vacation.

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