Satan appeared in a puff of smoke that brought with it the acrid smell of brimstone. I glanced at him briefly, then continued to paint my toenails a gorgeous, seashell pink.
"You're a disgrace to your lineage," the Devil said, starting in on his favorite rant, pacing the small confines of my living room.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," I said with disinterest, blowing on the wet coat of polish. "Whatever happened to 'hello'?"
"That would require manners, something you know I abhor," he retorted.
"Well, could you at least knock? I'm kind of fond of my privacy--not to mention, as a girl, I could have been doing something--" I paused here, trying to think of something appropriate. Of course, I couldn't at the moment, but I would about an hour later when the conversation was long done. "Girly."
Satan just snorted. He knew me so well. "Why can't you be more like your half-sisters?" he railed.
"Um, probably because they're succubi and I'm part human."
"Minor details. Couldn't you at least sin a little? You're supposed to be a princess of Hell."
"I bet other princesses are lucky enough to have their dads knock first."
"See what I mean?" he said in exasperation. "No respect, which would usually make me proud, but you're not following through with vile acts. You're making me look like a bad parent. My minions in Hell are laughing at me. There have even been rumors I'm no longer fit to be the Father Of All Sin, since I can't even control my own daughter."
"Yeah, well, it sucks to be you." I'd always been the good apple in a sea of bad ones, a fact that drove my dad--The Devil, Beelzebub, whatever you wanted to call him--wild.
"It wasn't bad enough you got straight A's in school. Oh, no," he said, warming up. "You just have to be a virgin, too. You're twenty-three years old. It's just wrong," he shouted. "I raised you to be more evil than this."
"I told you before, not until I fall in love," I said, finally standing up, my body bristling with tension as we faced off over an age-old argument. I wanted my first time to be special. Dad knew that. I'd read enough books about sex to know this momentous occasion would be a memory that would last a lifetime, which in my case could be quite a while, given my parentage. Was it my fault I hadn't yet found the one? I mean, just think of the criteria this poor fellow had to meet. One, he couldn't be completely mortal--being a little stronger than normal girls, I had a fear of hurting him in the heat of the moment. Two, he had to not run screaming when he found out my dad happened to be Satan, master of lies and deceit. And three, the lucky winner had to be hot. Hot enough to melt my insides into mushy goo, and make me go cross-eyed. Those were just the top three criteria; I had a few more, but I had yet to meet someone who managed to get past the first three, which made me wonder if I needed to revise my list, but dammit, I refused to compromise. I knew I'd find the one eventually, but while I waited for Mister Right, I had to say, I quite enjoyed driving my dad batty.
Lucifer pulled at his still-dark hair that only had hints of grey at the temples, and sighed wearily. "Why do you do this to me?" he asked, slumping onto the couch. I sat down beside him and hugged his stocky body. After all, when all is said and done, I do love my father, even if he can be a tad overbearing.
"Hey, if it's any consolation," I said in an effort to cheer him up, "I probably won't wait to get married first. That's a little sin, right?"
"I guess," he said, sounding a little mollified.
Of course, my decision to skip marriage might have to do with the fact I couldn't enter a church without all the religious items bursting into flame. So unfair. I hadn't done anything evil--well, truly evil--and yet God and all his trappings reacted to me like I was the anti-Christ, something my only human brother found highly amusing. Even priests couldn't get close to me; well, the pure ones, anyway. The bad ones had no problem at all. It was only the pure of faith following the doctrine of the One God who dropped to the floor writhing in agony. Good thing most of the priests I met were of the other variety. Needless to say, I didn't think marriage lay in the cards, unless I did the whole 'city hall judge' thing, which personally I thought lacked romance and commitment.
My dad still sat on the couch, looking woebegone. Good thing none of his minions were around to see. It made me glad that, around me, he didn't feel like he had to put on an act. I mean, it had to be hard, being evil all the time. Even bad guys needed a break--and someone to love them.
"Dad, I know what will cheer you up. Why don't you go back to Hell and torture a few of the demons who are bad-mouthing you, and show them you're still boss? Start a few eternal fires, make a grand speech about everyone bowing to the king of Hades or facing the flames of perdition."
"You're just trying to get rid of me," he sulked, although I could see my words had perked him up a bit.
"Yes and no. I have to open the bar in, like, twenty minutes; so yes, I am trying to get you to leave, but," I said, throwing my arms around him and hugging him tight, "I love you, and I don't like to see you like this."
"I don't know why, but I'm attached to you, too," Satan said grumpily, hugging me back. I cherished moments like that; they tended to be few and far between. "Try to be bad," he said, before popping out of sight.
The smell of brimstone--the predominant perfume of Hell, and my dad's calling card--hung in the air, the hard-to-wash miasma clinging to my sweater. Great, now I needed to change again. Hurrying because I was now definitely running late, I changed my yellow crew-neck t-shirt to a tight, pink, scoop-necked one. I tucked it into my skin-tight white jeans; then I yanked on my pink ankle boots with furry cuffs, because everyone knows: no matter how fabulous or not the clothes are, it's all about the footwear. I grabbed my keys and white lambs-wool jacket, and hightailed it out the door.
As soon as I exited the building, the wind caught at my hair, which I'd stupidly left hanging down. The long, silken length of it plastered across my face, and I could only see in patches. With no time to go back and tie it up, I squinted as best as I could and cursed--some of it pretty colorful, considering the people I knew--and trudged off to work. I'd like to blame my hair for slamming into the broad back of the man who seemed to suddenly appear in front of me, but truth be told, I'd been woolgathering again.
Of course, I didn't intend to take the blame. "Ow, watch where you're standing," I yelled, stumbling backwards and teetering over the edge of the curb. I would have probably fallen on my ass, had the rock I'd run into not grabbed me by the arms and yanked me steady.
"You should watch where you're walking," said a gravelly tone that made goose bumps rise on every part of my body.
I wanted to see his face, to see if he could possibly be as sexy as his voice suggested, but the damned hair in my face just refused to get out of the way. I only managed to get an impression of height and width. By the time I'd managed to grab my hair and yank it to the side, the stranger had disappeared. I looked ahead of me, behind me, and even across the street; but the humans stumbling along didn't seem right. For one, they seemed too ordinary. The man I'd hit had felt like something more. I'd sensed power coiled inside of him, an energy my own power reacted to. He must have been new in town, because I knew I'd never met him before; and not to sound conceited, but anyone with supernatural abilities--be they good or evil--ended up in my bar at some point. Speaking of which, I was late!
Walking quickly, I made the remaining six blocks in under fifteen minutes, arriving just as Charon popped out of a dimensional door inside the alcove that protected my front door.
"Don't you have to ferry people across the river?" I asked my most faithful client. A long standing joke between us.
"I'm thirsty," he said, his face hidden in the depths of the voluminous cloak he always wore. "Besides, they're dead, they can wait. After all, they have all of eternity left." Charon chuckled evilly.
"Oh, give it up," I said. I punched him in the arm before unlocking the door to the bar. "You and I both know you're about as evil as a fly."
"I've known some pretty evil flies in my time," he said, dead pan. Then he chuckled normally. "Actually, I took the night off. My wife says I need to slow down, so I've got my son working the boat today. Here's hoping he doesn't drop the oar this time and strand the souls in the middle of the Styx again."
"He didn't?" I breathed, in shock. Talk about a major faux pas.
"I'm afraid he did," said Charon, shaking his head. "I love my son, but, I have to say, he's not the sharpest blade. I acted preemptively this time though; I tethered the oar to the boat."
I laughed, and let my longtime friend--who also happened to be Dad's best friend--into the bar. He kept me company while I fired on the lights and prepped the bar for the evening crowd. Thursday nights usually got quite the crowd, but with Survivor: Burn in Hell premiering that night on the Damned channel, I knew we'd be missing a few familiar faces. I had it taping myself, on my DVR. I never missed a season. It just reminded me of how much I really needed to invest in a flat screen; another thing on my lengthy 'to do' list for when I made some money. I refused to borrow money from Dad, because he always tried to tie it up in strings. I intended to keep my soul--if I had one--thank you very much.
Besides, the bar I'd named Nexus was mine. Lock, stock, and mortgage. My retro-eighties bar served as a haven for all the abnormal people in the area. Not my idea. I'd originally just wanted a regular karaoke bar, but of course, bad blood will always interfere. In my case, my satanic side mixed with who-knows-what. Whatever had created me, other than dear old Lucifer, had packed a potent punch. With no effort on my part, the space around me for about a hundred feet or so ends up being a magic-free zone. Seriously, I'm like a walking null field. That didn't stop the natural-born abilities of the supernaturals who liked to frequent my place, but it sure came in handy for those extras that tended to get lobbed around in other places where too many people with magic gathered and drank.
Falling-down-drunken warlocks arguing over who had the more powerful grimoire? Never good. Unless you were in the Nexus, of course; then all you saw were two old men swinging feeble punches, instead of devastating earthquakes and meteors falling from the sky. Once word got around about my magic-free bar, it became the hottest place in town for supernatural beings to hang out at, and somehow the mortals just walked on by; funny coincidence, that.
At least the specials tipped well, which made it easy to find staff. I had several dryads who acted as barmaids; Percy, my bartender and bouncer, who, with his half-giant blood, tended to get very little lip; and then there was little ol' me. On the nights Percy was off, I just pulled out my handy dandy baseball bat from behind the bar if people got out of hand. I'd played baseball in the demon female league for years, so I had a nasty swing. Of course, no one at the bar, except for Charon and Percy that is, knew I was Satan's daughter. I tend to tell that fact only to people I trust because, for some reason, strangers seemed to think knowing a princess of Hell gave them leverage over my dad; and no matter how many times I showed them the errors of their way, they just didn't get it.
So, nowadays, I go incognito. Instead of going by my first name, Satana, I use my middle name, Muriel. The patrons just assume I'm some kind of a witch, and leave me alone. It's kind of refreshing, actually, to be considered normal. When I'd lived in Hell, I'd constantly had to prove myself--not to mention save my own life. With flashing eyes--some claimed they could see the fires of Hell in them when I got pissed--I put those who would cross me or try to hurt my dad back in line. Thankfully, that doesn't happen often anymore. My reputation--not to mention my lineage--tends to precede me when I go back for visits.
My full name, by the way, is Satana Muriel Baphomet; I'm a bastard daughter of Satan, born of an unknown mother who smartly enough ran away from the mess that continues to be my life. I am about five foot eight; I'm definitely not a size 6, but I've always preferred my lush frame to the starved look of today's models. I have chestnut hair almost to my ass, with reddish highlights; brown eyes; and lips made for sucking cock--or so I've been told; I've yet to test that theory. I am twenty-three years old and still a virgin, but not by choice. I intend to lose the cherry as soon as I fall in love. Not just lust, love.
And speaking of lust, in walked three servings of testosterone on two legs each. Seriously, if I could have bottled these guys, I would have made a fortune as great as the creator of Viagra did. Every red-blooded, and one cold-blooded, female in the bar noticed them. It could have been the fact that they had an aura about them that said, "I am the bad-ass your mommy told you to stay away from." It could have been the fact I coveted the leather, ankle-length duster one of them wore. Or it could have even been the fact that all three of them were fucking gorgeous.
I could smell the hand of my father here. I mean, come on. What were the chances that on the same day Daddy Dear showed up whining about my virgin state, these three most perfect hunks of male flesh walked into my bar? It looked like dear old Dad had pulled out the big guns, and judging by the bulges they packed in their tight jeans, big might be an understatement. And, surprise, they just happened to be my three favorite flavors!
Ranging from six foot to a six foot three, if I was any judge, they were like a rainbow of boy candy--blond, brunette and ebony. Broad shoulders stretched their jackets, while their faces were chiseled perfection. When the ebony-haired one suddenly glanced my way with an aloof stare, I felt dampness in my panties. I also had to fight an urge to go out back to my office and masturbate.
So, of course, that put me in a foul mood. I really hate not being in control. When they strolled up to the bar, I turned my back and ignored them, even though I couldn't resist sniffing and inhaling the intoxicating scent of men's cologne and soap. Damn, they smell good. I wonder if they taste just as yummy?
"Can I get a beer, please," came a deep baritone that made me want to shiver. I restrained myself, barely. You aren't going to win, Daddy, I swore. I ignored sexy-voice--and my hormones--and polished the glass in my hand more vigorously.
"I don't think she likes you," teased a more mellow voice behind me. "I will show you how it's done. Excuse me, my beauty, my friends and I are possessed of an awful thirst. Perhaps if you let us drink of your beauty, we would not expire."
My eyebrows lifted and I really had to struggle not to laugh. Did that line seriously ever work? Although I had to say, my vain side did suck in my stomach a bit further and stick my chest out a bit farther. Guilty--I liked compliments as much as the next girl.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," said a gravelly voice with a hint of disgust. "Wench, get us some beers, would you?" I froze, with my back still turned. Could it be? Had fate brought back the stranger from earlier?
Intrigued by his complete lack of manners and determined to finally see what he looked like, I turned around, only to realize I had no idea who the uncouth voice belonged to.
Grabbing a stein, I filled it with some ale; I didn't ask them what type. They'd drink what I served them. I slapped it in front of the blond, who opened his eyes wide; his startled but low baritone saying 'thank you' told me he wasn't the one I wanted to see--although he definitely had a cute face. Maybe I shouldn't entirely dismiss him.
A second mug of beer in front of the brunette, and I found the want-to-be Lothario. "Thank you, my beautiful rose. I--"
I ignored him; not as easy as it sounded, with his bright blue eyes and engaging smile. I turned to serve the third man, Mister Gravelly Voice, and the wall I'd rammed into earlier. Once I looked upon his face, I caught my breath and stared, intrigued. I also found myself caught in the grips of some severe lust.
Unruly ebony hair, an angular face, a wicked scar that went across his cheek, and the most piercing green eyes I'd ever seen. His lips twisted in a bit of a smirk at my perusal.
"Get a good enough look? Do you like my scar? I've got an even better one to show you if you want to go out back where we can be private."
Ooh, attitude. I liked that in a man. "Who cares about your scar?" I said, smiling sweetly. I leaned forward so that the shadow of my cleavage distracted him. "I have scars, baby, that make yours look like a shaving cut. I was more interested in your coat. Where'd you get it?" A lie; okay, I had been checking him out, but hey, being the daughter of Satan, it was to be expected. And as for my scars, I preferred not think about those right now. Needless to say, the things that gave me those weren't happy campers anymore.
I think I caught green-eyes by surprise; I could see I'd shocked his friends. They started laughing. I turned a disdainful, ice princess look on them, one that gruff-voice aped; and under our dual stare, the two shut up pretty quickly--which made them go down a notch in my esteem. Real men would not be cowed by a dirty look.
"I think we'll get a table," muttered the blond. Grabbing his beer, he and his friend-of-the-flowery-speeches scooted across the room to a table against the back wall. Actually, all my tables hugged a wall; funny, how paranoid supernatural beings could be. It made for an odd setup, but a great dance floor. The elves especially liked all the space for dancing when they'd had a few nectars too much.
Gravelly-voice watched his friends leave, then turned back to face me. "Who are you?" he asked.
"The bartender." Smart ass comments were my specialty.
"Seriously. Who are you?" he asked again, looking at me intently with his green eyes, whose brightness and clarity reminded me of a soft spring grass. They contrasted nicely with his dark-and-dangerous look.
"Who are you?" I flashed back.
Auric, now there was a name you didn't hear every day. I liked it, though. It felt masculine. "I'm Muriel, the bartender." I gave him my middle name and skipped my first and last, for obvious reasons.
"No," he said, slowly and thoughtfully. "You're more than that."
Perceptive of him. "Aren't we all?" I said, gesturing to my usual mixed crowd of elves, dryads, gnomes, and other beings thought to belong in fairy tales. Oh, and there was even a demon in the back. He'd gotten thrown out of Hell for being too soft on the suffering, and was now currently drowning his sorrows with a couple of martini's--stirred with two olives. Pussy.
"Maybe I should ask what you are. You've got a strange flavor to you," I said. His own brand of uniqueness radiated from him--not quite good, yet not evil. Not anything I'd ever tasted, in fact. It made my own power sizzle inside my body. My nipples hardened and I licked my lips, a sensual motion that caught his attention; and, for a moment, I saw his eyes flash. It would seem Auric was not immune to my charms.
"You can feel my power?" he asked, his brow creasing.
I just smiled and shrugged. "I can do a lot of things, just like everyone else in here. From what I sensed of your friends, they're special, too." The blond had a bestial smell to him, signaling shape shifter, while blue-eyes had the ozone feel of a wizard. An interesting trio, to be sure.
"They're special, all right," Auric muttered.
"You guys must be new. I don't think I've ever seen you around before."
"We moved to town a few months ago, but have been traveling on...business." He hesitated before he said business, and I perked up, sensing a story.
"Oh, what kind of business are you into?"
"This and that," he replied vaguely. "We happened to hear about the bar from a client. He said the owner is a unique kind of supernatural. No one seems to know exactly who or what she is."
"Aah, the boss," I said, hiding a smile. "Yes, she's something, all right." I wondered just what outrageous stories he'd heard about me.
"Does she ever come in?" he questioned.
I started feeling uneasy about his line of questioning. He seemed awfully curious about the owner of the Nexus--in other words, me. "Nope, she rarely comes in. She just lets us peons do the work for her."
"What a shame; I would have liked to meet her, I've heard so much about her. So if she's not around, how does the no-magic thing work? It feels as if the whole joint has, like, a dampening field on it. I didn't believe it 'til I felt it. Is it like a spell?"
He wanted to meet the owner? He'd heard so much about her? This talkative Auric didn't seem like the guy who'd walked into the bar, or who I'd bumped into today. That guy had attitude; that guy didn't beat around the bush. So why the seemingly innocent questions and friendly talk? A man like him should be demanding answers. Something didn't seem right. He should have been asking me about me--hot bartender with an awesome set--not who owned the bar and how it worked. Even if he was inadvertently talking about me, I didn't like it. I'd been the victim of too many assassination attempts not to feel my hackles go up in warning. I switched on a tactic that had worked well for me in the past. "Yeah the no-magic thing is totally neat," I said, adopting my 'if I were a blonde I'd be so dumb' routine. "I have no idea how she does it, but it's so cool."
My bubbly response seemed to throw him for a loop, and I saw his eyes narrow in consideration, making me wonder if I should have laid it on a little less thick. "There's something different about you, Muriel," mused Auric.
I was almost tempted to ask him what, but he'd made me feel uncomfortable--not to mention annoyed--that instead of asking me out on a date, he wanted to pump me for information. The time had come to end this conversation before I slipped up and said something that revealed who and what I was. "I'm sure you say that to all the girls. Now why don't you go join your friends, and see if you come up with more lame pickup lines. I've got work to do."
I turned my back on him, a task that ended up being harder than it should have been. My body felt drawn to him, and I had to battle an insane urge to take him out back and tell him to strip so I could find his other scars.
He left the bar to join his friends without another word, and a stupid, girly part of myself gave a moue of disappointment. I mean, he could have tried harder, right?
I pretty much ignored Auric and his friends the rest of the evening, sending my part-time barmaid--dryads could be so unreliable, hence the part-time aspect--to serve them.
Auric didn't come back to the bar, although I caught him watching me speculatively more than once. Not that I checked on him; nope not me, I just happened to be keeping a general eye on the joint. I sucked at lying, even to myself.
When three a.m. hit, I flashed the lights to signal closing time.
Other than my drunk, disgraced demon, who now sang Elton John as he staggered out the door, and my trio of studs, the bar sat empty. I saw Auric flash me a look as he went by and left with his friends, but I pretended not to see him, and continued with the closing of my register.
Silvia, my wood nymph maid, waved good night and went out back to take the shortcut to the park where she liked to sink her roots. I finished putting the receipts and cash into the safe, threw on my white lambs-wool jacket--Daddy's least favorite color--then locked up and began the walk home. Only a dozen or so blocks, and for a girl like me, not a problem.
The night seemed unusually still. The air hung breathless, not even a whisper of wind. Odd, considering the violent gusts from earlier. The usual sounds heard at a sleepy, almost four o'clock seemed muted. Not a car in sight, not a single howling dog, not a hissing cat. It was kind of refreshing, actually. Stuffing my hands in my pockets, I walked home, the occasional thought of the dark haired Auric keeping me company--and warm.
My body and head swirled with a mess of emotions, the foremost being confusion and arousal. Auric had definitely lit a fire inside me, but he also made my warning bells ring. I needed to find out more about him. But how? I hadn't gotten a last name, and according to him, he'd only come to the area recently. So where could I get the scoop on him and his friends?
I thought about asking Daddy. If Auric belonged to him, then he'd be able to give me the scoop; but asking for help, aside from all the deals that went with it, meant tipping my hand. I didn't want my dad to know I'd found someone who interested me. I wanted to form my own opinions on Auric as a man, without my father coloring my view of him or trying to tip the scales falsely in Auric's favor. Which also made me wonder: for which team did Auric play? Contrary to popular belief, good and evil weren't the only states of being--the expression "many shades of gray" totally applied here. While God and Satan happened to be the biggest known players--and brothers, to boot--other powerful entities did exist. Did Auric work for one of them? Could I be any more paranoid?
I kept walking and pondering in the dead night, lost in my thoughts; but even distracted, I heard the soft thud of something hitting the ground behind me, and the acrid scent of brimstone.
I went for my dagger sheaths, only to realize that, in my rush to get to work, I'd forgotten them.