Peep Rep: There's a problem retrieving the book.
Liza: I'm afraid to ask. What have you done this time?
Peep Rep: Me, I haven't done anything! Only to get to this book, I'm going to need to wear a really good fire protection suit.
Peep Rep: It's in you know where!
Liza: Ah. Well, take the path of good intention, but poor execution. It's probably the least dangerous entry into hell.
Peep Rep: Okay...in case I don't come back, it's been fun.
Liza: Yes, yes. On your way.
Peep Rep *Leaves reluctantly* Bye everyone... *coughs*
Peep Rep: I'm back!
Liza: Do you have the book?
Peep Rep: I've got it. I think it’s in shock to be out of there!
Liza: Oh, you poor book. Are you okay?
Book: That depends, where am I?
Liza: In my living room?
Book: It's very messy. No way this is still Hell! The Maintenance Department would have a fit if they saw this!
Liza: No. You are back in the living world. Peep Rep retrieved you for an interview, but in the process, he may have forgotten to explain a few things.
Book: Don't worry about. Books in Hell don’t see a lot of the outside world so it’s nice to get out. Do all living rooms look this messy? I mean, is this normal?
Liza: Let’s get past the housekeeping questions, shall we? Which would you rather be called? Devil or Pay.
Peep Rep: Liza can't spell words long than four letters.
Book: To be honest, I'm sick of being called the Devil, usually in anger. Call me Pay.
Liza: For the record, I can spell, but my fingers can't. Now tell me about your book...even if you need bigger words to do it. Just go for it!
Pay: Let me first explain that hell is actually Hades Enterprises, LLc. Get it? H.E.LLc. We don’t manufacture brimstone or much of anything and despite the bad rep, no human souls are allowed in the building. No fiery pits of torture—unless you count karaoke nights when they let those demons from accounting take the mic for an endless disco medley! A book has nowhere to go to get away from that noise! Anyway, being the devil isn't nearly as fun as it sounds. In fact, no one wants the job. So when the position is open, the job is given to one unlucky angelic winner, or as we call him: the ultimate loser.
Liza: Sorry your guy won...well actually lost. Is it really that bad?
Pay: The hours are terrible, the workload unbelievable and frankly, customer service is a nightmare. You're blamed for everything and liability is no joke when you're the Lord of Darkness.
Liza: Yeah, I guess you have a billion lawyers down there looking to sue anything that moves.
Pay: Demons do enjoy law school! As a result, turnover for the position is fairly high. The current Lucifer is the seventh lucky one to lose the ultimate mystery job search and land the title.
Liza: Why would an angel apply for the job in the first place?
Pay: I don't think they tell you what you’re volunteering for except that you get to work directly with Upper Management, see the world, and there’s no heavy lifting. A bit of a bait and switch if you ask me.
Liza: But surely it's got some perks, right? It’s an exciting job, creating great havoc on mankind.
Pay: Truthfully, there's very little evil to be instigated. Humans are the source of all the fun. Free will and a bad history of twisted mythology takes care of all of it--so the guy behind the black onyx desk is generally just the unhappy Arch Angel left filling out paperwork and doing his best to keep the Big Boss happy.
Liza: That truly does sound like hell. But surely, there must be some relief from the tedium. A sexy Succubus or someone?
Pay: It's a long, dry run for the current devil.
Liza: Why? Is he hideously deformed?
Pay: Not at all. He's just not interested in ladies wearing spider web stockings and red Jell-O in their hair, and sadly they are the ones who come onto him.
Liza: I could see how the sticky Jello would be a turn off.
Pay: Oh trust me, getting caught in a ladies spiderweb clothes is no thrill either.
Liza: So devils never get girlfriends.
Pay: I didn't say that. Even Archangels get lonely and might consider dipping a toe into the lusty pools of Gothic Hookers out there, but this Lucifer is actually a stand-up angel, and thus, has kept himself to himself.
Liza: Maybe I should send Pep Rep back down to hell to rescue poor Lucifer. His life sounds terrible.
Pay: It recently picked up a bit. He's fallen in love with a human woman he bumped into--literally. It made him rethink his decision not to apply for the maintenance position in purgatory.
Liza: That sounds like a ghastly job. He must really be in love.
Pay: Yes, and love can make a person crazy...even Lucifer. He's determined to either get himself fired or promoted.
Pay: No one in Upper Management is talking so he’s improvising. He hopes if he can polish up his wings enough to win this beautiful mortal woman he’ll get fired.
Peep Rep: That sounds like a great plan. Fired or promoted, eh? This book sounds like something I can relate to...hellish job and all. Do you have an excerpt?
Liza: Peep Rep you are exceeding the parameters of your job. That should be my question.
Pay: Please stop bickering. That goes on 24/7 down there. And yes, I can let you take a short peek. But if you dog ear a page, you will answer to Jezebel, the Head Librarian in H.E.LLc and—well you don’t want to know what a demonic book guardian can do to you if you don’t treat me with respect!
“You’re mental, right?”
“I think if we were having this conversation in a basement decorated with torn out newspaper articles, black-light posters and me drooling about how I have conversations with dogs and wear tinfoil underwear, you might have a case.” He deliberately glanced around the room, silently pointing out the lack of “mental” revealed by his beautifully appointed modern office and furnishings. The view
was worth millions and if it weren’t for the black onyx desk, it would be easy to mistake it for an ordinary executive’s digs. “I think we can rule out insanity—on both sides of this argument.”
“Right, since I’m not the one proclaiming to be the Prince of Darkness,” she said with a touch of sarcasm she couldn’t prevent. After all, even pretending to take him seriously made her consider that she might not be firing on all cylinders. “Is it possible you’re just a very wealthy man in need of medication?”
“Sure. Anything is possible,” he conceded, his open smile disarming her as he was obviously beginning to genuinely enjoy the debate. “Jayne, I could be an eccentric billionaire intent on impressing you by pretending to be Lucifer.
Stranger things have happened.”
“Name one thing stranger than this.”
“Besides the fashion of the 80’s and people who resemble their dogs?”
She smiled. The man was just too charming for his own good. “Okay, stranger things have happened. It doesn’t mean you’re the devil.”
“Okay? That’s it? No offer to demonstrate your powers or even just a few more clever arguments about how medication won’t help?”
“It’s a job, Jayne, not an illness. But a demonstration… It might work.”
“Might?” She crossed her arms playfully. “What kind of lame demo are you imagining if I can potentially blow it off?”
He laughed. “The human mind is a tricky thing, lady. No matter what the “wow factor”, I’ve seen people blame food poisoning or look for green screens before they believe their own senses. It’s always a revelation how far you’ll go to ignore the truth after it’s bumped up against your nose.”
“I meant to say, “you” as in the general “you human beings”… I’m not going to thump you on the nose, if that was a concern.”
He was so calm and she suddenly had the sinking feeling that there was a small chance that she was wrong and that he wasn’t lying or playing a game.
But I need you to be crazy, big guy, because the alternative is…unacceptable. I
can’t be standing here making cow eyes at a man who wears horns and a red suit on casual Fridays!
“I’ll skip the demo then,” she offered, hating the tremor in her voice that made her sound frightened and small. “But I will say this, for the Devil, you’re being very forthright to admit it, aren’t you? I mean, wouldn’t lying be more in line with your character?”
He shook his head. “Ah, the myth about being the Prince of Lies!” He gestured her toward one of the comfortable looking upholstered chairs situated over by the bar on the wall. “Fiction and dogma have done a lot for the job’s reputation, but seriously, while the first Lucifer may have bent a few rules as directed, deception’s not our strong suit.”
“Deception isn’t whose strong suit?” She took the seat he’d offered and admired the man as he settled in across from her.
“Angels. Anything a shade or two past a white lie, which even we need for our social survival on this planet, but anything heftier than that—it’s like retching up battery acid. I’ve never heard of any one of my peers even attempting a good whopper. It doesn’t exactly make sense, considering the omniscient powers of Upper Management. I mean, a lie is a pretty stupid invention, isn’t it, if you report directly to God? I’m guessing He doesn’t have to wait for a performance evaluation to call you on it.”
“So you just tell everyone you’re the Devil, right up front? Doesn’t that make the soul collecting a little challenging?”
“No and no! Souls are not like souvenir spoons to be collected and what in the world would I do with such a thing!” He looked genuinely insulted. “I don’t tell anyone much of anything, since I don’t usually interact with too many people.
So there’s no Faustian quest… Your soul is yours to protect and keep just as it should be, Jayne.”
“I’m sorry. I just… Okay, what is your job, exactly?”
“Well, besides just existing and providing a focal point and scapegoat for those who need it, there’s a lot of paperwork and record keeping involved. It’s not as exciting as one might imagine.”
“You don’t…create evil and destroy people?”
He ran a hand through his unruly curls and sighed. “Evil may have required a nudge in the early days, but that hasn’t been the case for more centuries than you want to count. Human beings are capable of inventing their own atrocities and coming up with their own methods of destruction.” His grief was palpable. “I’m just the unlucky guy who gets a front row seat.”
Angels. Demons. Devils. Every word had felt a tad cartoonish before this moment. But here you are, and I’m looking at you and if ever a man looked like an angel with those burnished gold curls and those tawny eyes—okay, guy, I’m not laughing anymore.
He reached out and took her hand, the movement swift enough to arrest her train of thought but not fast enough to be alarming. “Demo time, Jayne. Then I promise I’ll answer any question you have.”
The shift was instantaneous and didn’t come along with a single movie sound effect to undercut its impact. One moment she’d been sitting in a leather upholstered chair across from Luke and the next, Jayne was standing with him on the edge of a sheer cliff overlooking a vast ocean lit with the orange glow of a setting sun. There was a tropical warm breeze pushing her hair back from her face and somewhere far below the surf pounded in a rhythm that synchronized with her heartbeat. His hand holding hers was the only constant, and it was all she could do not to start screaming or babbling in sheer terror.
Omigod! Holy freakin’ mother of all hallucinations! What the--?!
His voice was calm, holding her in check. “I told you a demonstration isn’t always the way to go. But to be honest, I need you, Jayne.”
“Y-you need me?” His words were so unexpected that Jayne’s shock at locale gave way to focus only on him and the flow of a conversation more surreal than anything else.
“I need you to believe me. I need you to trust me. And—“ he paused suddenly.
“And?” she prompted him breathlessly, her grip on his fingers tightening.
“I need you to love me.”
Peep Rep: Oh I want this!
Liza: Too late. I already have it. But go find the links so others can buy it too. (It's delightful!)
Peep Rep: Found them!
Renee Bernard is an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of historical romance and recently, contemporary romantic comedy. She won RT’s Reviewer’s Choice award for “Best Debut Historical” in 2006 and never slowed down (she missed the memo). By the end of 2014, she will have fifteen books out there in the world. She has published with Simon & Schuster and Berkley as well as branching out into independent publishing, audio books and comic books. For over four years she has been the host of “The Romance Bookmark” (formerly “Canned Laughter and Coffee”), a weekly internet radio show with between 80-100K registered listeners via Readers Entertainment. From wine wrangling to stand-up comedy and public speaking, there’s nothing off the table. (No really. Nothing. Except anything involving a pole. She’s past that now.)
Renee lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains with her husband and daughters, and an adequate number of cats to qualify as a romance writer.
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