Table of Contents
New look, old evil
Deacon stalked to the door, marched over the threshold, and disappeared. Minutes passed. Minutes that seemed like hours, with Rose writhing and moaning, her screams no less pitiful and painful with the leather strap in her mouth. Then the door burst open, and Deacon came in, leading a shirtless man in blue jeans and bare feet.
Deacon had the man’s arms trapped behind his back, and the man didn’t say one word. The reason why was easy to see—he had no mouth, just smooth skin where the orifice should be.
I’d never seen the man before, but I knew him instantly, and not only because Deacon held him with such furious certainty. Six black dots lined each side of his face, three tracking beside his nose and three curving under each eye. I knew those marks, had watched those dots as they seemed to float above his skin as life faded from me.
Lucas Johnson had found a new body.
Titles by Julie Kenner
DEMONS ARE FOREVER
DEMON EX MACHINA
THE GOOD GHOULS’ GUIDE TO GETTING EVEN
GOOD GHOULS DO
HELL WITH THE LADIES
(with Kathleen O’Reilly and Dee Davis)
HELL ON HEELS
(with Kathleen O’Reilly and Dee Davis)
FENDI, FERRAGAMO, & FANGS
(with Johanna Edwards and Serena Robar)
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Ace mass-market edition / December 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Julie Kenner.
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For Jess and Aaron . . .
Thanks for going with me into the dark.
My name is Lily Carlyle. Except that it’s not. Not really. Not anymore.
I’d gone out one night intending to kill the son of a bitch who’d stalked and raped my little sister, Rose. I failed, though, and instead of killing Lucas Johnson, I’d ended up dead.
Not exactly the result I’d been hoping for, I’ll admit. And it just got weirder when I woke up in someone else’s body.
Since that day, my name’s been Alice Elaine Purdue.
Which pretty much makes my name a metaphor for my life. Because nothing in my life is what it seems. For example, I thought that I’d been brought back to life to kill the demons who were trying to open the Ninth Gate to Hell. I thought I was stopping an army of demons from crossing over at the next interdimensional convergence. That I was preventing Armageddon. That I was doing Good, with a capital G, and when all was said and done, I’d walk away with a nice shiny halo and a great big A+ on my permanent record.
The truth is a lot more complicated. The truth, for that matter, pisses me off.
I was duped. Told I was battling the Big Bad, when really I was doing Evil’s bidding. My mission wasn’t to keep the Ninth Gate locked up tight and hold back the demonic horde—it was to keep the good guys from doing that very thing.
I hadn’t prevented the end of the world; I’d facilitated it.
The Ninth Gate is wide-open, and in less than two weeks, an army of demons is going to cross over. Life as we know it is going to end. And the cliché “hell on earth” will no longer be a figure of speech.
At least, that’s the demons’ dirty little plan. I, however, don’t intend to let that happen. They made me a warrior, and by God it is time to do battle.
I’m going to figure out how to lock the gate tight.
And the more demons I have to kill to do that, the better.
Like a caged panther, Deacon paced the length of the rank motel room. He wore jeans and a white T-shirt, and the look would have been almost casual were it not for the dark glasses that he sported despite the single dim lamp and the predawn hour.
With those glasses, he looked like the consummate bad boy. Which, frankly, was exactly what he was. A demon. A Tri-Jal. One of the worst of the worst.
More than that, though, he was a demon allied with a demon hunter—me. The irony made me smile even as a nugget of worry settled in my gut. Because this was a dangerous game I was playing. If I’d made the wrong choice in aligning myself with Deacon, I could very well end up paying the price for eternity. All I knew was that I couldn’t deny him. Couldn’t push him out of my life, out of my head, or even out of my heart. He’d claimed me once, gotten right inside my head, and announced that I was his.
And as every day passed, I feared that he was right.
Feared it and fought it, but at the same time, I welcomed it.
I didn’t know where he’d found the dark glasses, and I didn’t ask. What I did know was that he wore them because of me. Because if I couldn’t see his eyes, I couldn’t get into his head. And in his head was where the real bad boy lay. The images of past deeds. Of memories too horrible to share.
I wanted to see them.
to see them. Needed to know the heart of this man who compelled me. But he wasn’t letting me in, and the glasses were just one more way of telling me not to even try.
Honestly, it pissed me off. Then again, these days, it didn’t take much to irritate me. I was walking a knife-edge. Tilt one way, and I fell into rage. The other, and I slipped into despair.
“It’s almost dawn,” he said.
“You have somewhere else to be?” I asked. I was on the bed, my sister Rose’s head cradled in my lap. And, yeah, I was tired and cranky. Too much had happened too quickly, and my head was spinning. My body might not need sleep anymore, but right then I craved a nap.
As for Deacon, I honestly didn’t know what he craved. Until now I’d never been with him for any extended period, and I found myself wondering what he did with himself during the day, or during the night for that matter. I thought about asking, but since I wasn’t certain I’d like the answer, I kept my mouth shut.
The truth was, I didn’t want him to leave. Didn’t want him to tell me he had to disappear and that he’d come back when he could. I needed help. And, selfishly, I wanted Deacon with me. Wanted the comfort that his presence provided, even a supercharged presence that looked like it was on the verge of exploding.
We’d been in our cracker-box motel for almost six hours, having holed up in the aftermath of a nasty little battle during which Lucas Johnson had shoved part of his demonic essence into Rose before we’d gotten her the hell out of there.
She’d screamed in pain and terror, then passed out cold. She still slept, and to be honest, I was beginning to worry that she’d never wake up. Deacon, however, had assured me that she would regain consciousness soon, albeit with one hell of a headache. I didn’t ask him how he could be so certain about the particulars of demonic possession. That was just one more thing I didn’t want to know.
Add on top of all that the fact that I had, only hours prior, managed to single-handedly facilitate the imminent arrival of Armageddon, and you can probably see why I was a little stressed.
“They’ll start looking for you soon,” Deacon said. “We need a plan.”
The “they” he referred to was actually a “he”: Clarence, in particular. My amphibious handler. A toad-faced little demon who’d run the con on me and whom I despised all the more because I’d actually been starting to like him.
“I have a plan,” I said, stroking Rose’s hair. “I already told you.” For that matter, we’d talked of nothing other than my plan for hours. With me alternating between berating myself for failing both Rose and the world, and fantasizing in glorious detail how I would kill not only Clarence but every other demon I came in contact with.
The fantasy alone was cathartic, but not nearly enough, and I couldn’t wait for the real deal. I wanted the satisfaction of the kill. The strength I gained. And, yeah, I wanted the hit of power. I drew it in when I killed them. The demon’s essence. Its darkness. Its fury.
And, yeah, I was happy to embrace the homicidal happiness. Ironic, I suppose, since without all this demon-assassin prophecy bullshit, I wouldn’t be having warm, fuzzy, murderous thoughts. I wouldn’t be spending every day of my life trying to suppress the demonic essence that got sucked into me with each and every kill.
And here’s an interesting tidbit: You’d think that since I’d been unknowingly working for the bad guys, I would have been out there killing
guys who I’d been duped to whack. If that had been the case, then I’d be filled with goodness and light, about as sweet and charming as they come, because I would have sucked in the essence of a boatload of near-angelic souls.