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Authors: Kaitlin R. Branch

Pandora's Ring

BOOK: Pandora's Ring
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Also by Kaitlin R. Branch

 

Valeria

Pandora’s Ring

Sword’s Blessing

 

 

Pandora’s Ring

Cinereal, Book One

 

By KAITLIN R. BRANCH

 

 

 

 

 

LYRICAL PRESS

http://lyricalpress.com/

 

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/

 

 

To all of you who read.
 
Thank you.

 

 

Acknowledgements
 

 

Thank you Antonia for being so encouraging to a fledgling author, your support is so appreciated.
 
Thank you to my husband, who, when suffering a touch of terror that I’m not a good writer after all, tells me to take a deep breath and brings me some chocolate until I snap out of it.
 
Finally, thank you to Ali for this one, for being my first reader and telling me what was what.

 

 

1

 

“What do you mean ‘go get her’?”

“Exactly what I said, Eli. Her soul is on the docket.”

Eli huffed as he glanced over the ethereal clipboard in his hands. “Says here Diego made the deal. Why isn’t he collecting?”

“Snuffed.”

“Well, shit. How did that happen?” It wasn’t so much that a Damned had been snuffed which surprised him, but it was Diego. The guy was a juggernaut.

The Doll, one of the Lucifer’s construct mouthpieces, eyed him through winged glasses and far too much eye makeup. “How in all hells do you think? This kind of shit happens. Go get her.”

“I hate firstborn deals,” Eli grumbled, rubbing at the close-curled scruff on his chin. “Give me a quick-death or save-the-family deal any day. There’s always so much yelling and screaming from the parents and the kid, it gives me a headache.”

“You’re a demon, Eli. You don’t get headaches.”

“Don’t bring logic into this, Doll,” Eli said and handed the clip-board back. “Fine. Does it go on my count?”

“Yes. It’ll bring you to seven thousand two hundred and forty-two.”

“Hooray.” Eli drawled. “I’ll make ten thousand yet.”

The Doll smirked. “The Scavenger of the Damned with ten thousand souls? We’ll have to have a party.”

“Sure. I’ll bring the drinks.” Eli said, and waved, trudging off. The address was in the United States and he was in the Gold Coast. Devil’s horn, he hated ocean crossings, but Africa had been good to him. Maybe he should leave it alone.

 

* * * *

 

“Lord in heaven, grant me the patience to deal with these idiots.” Samantha took a deep breath as she read her glowing computer screen again but email in front of her unfortunately, still detailed changes to her website design which had been done according to the exact specifications of the customer, who now wanted to ‘tweak the idea a little.’

She considered writing a scathing reply. No, adding a chat box would not improve site approachability, and she would much prefer eating her computer science diploma with a nice Chianti than changing the font to comic sans. “Deep breaths,” she mumbled and grabbed her coffee.

It was too late for coffee, but she was about to have to bend over for this damn site anyway. She should probably be awake for it. She took a sip.

Just as she did so, there was a knock on the door.

Samantha rose, coffee in hand. She checked the peephole, frowned, rubbed her eye and checked again. What the hell was Adonis doing standing outside her door? Rich dark skin, lithe form but still built as hell, nicely groomed wire-tight hair - he looked like he was out of a magazine. And her without a stitch of makeup in her ratty clothes.

“Hold up, Samantha,” she murmured, lifting her hands from the door.
 
Was she crazy, up and opening doors to strange men?. “You’re a reasonably good looking chick in an unlocked apartment complex, with a large amount of expensive electronics. Sure you’ve got a fake wedding ring, but is answering the door a good plan?”

She peeked through the keyhole again. Thankfully he hadn’t heard her talking, or if he had, wasn’t reacting. The man put his hands in his pockets, looking around the bland hallway. With the chain on the door he couldn’t force his way in. And he didn’t have a gun…probably. Besides, he looked like a bit of a hipster, and how many of those guys carried guns? He must have been lost.

She slid the chain in place and opened the door, being certain to keep behind it. Besides maybe protecting her from a knife, it meant he didn’t have to see her pj’s. “Hi, do you need some help?”

The man’s face split into a smile. Beautiful straight teeth, but she noticed the smile did not reach his eyes. “Hello ma’am. I’m sorry about the hour. Would you happen to be Marie Parker?”

Samantha frowned. She considered slamming the door. But the man was smiling so broadly, he must have had no idea that Marie Parker was dead. She’d been raised to be careful, not rude. He had one more chance. “No. Why?”

“I’m here on behalf of an old friend of hers named Diego. Ring any bells?”

Samantha’s mood darkened even more. Good looking as he was, this guy was full of shit. How had she not noticed his skin was actually kind of oily? His eyes had a very strange sheen–too dark for him not to be terribly ill.

The man blinked at her in confusion, and then stepped back, raising his hands. “I don’t mean any harm, ma’am. If I’m making you uncomfortable, maybe we can meet later?”

Funny, since he’d stepped back, he was less creepy again. Samantha tilted her head. “How do you know I even know who this Marie Parker is? She’s never lived here.”

“If you know that, you must know who she is.”

Oops. “Look, what do you…or, who was it? Diego? Want with her?”

“Ah, of course. Look, if you’ll just let me in, I can explain everything.” He held up his hands again. “I promise, no funny stuff.”

“Fuck, man, who do you think I am?” Samantha snorted. “You’ve got Schrodinger’s rapist written all over you and I’ve got work to do. Marie Parker has been dead for almost twenty-five years, so I don’t see what Diego could possibly want with her.”

The man stared at her. “What did you say?” he asked. “Seriously? Marie Hayfield Parker has been dead for twenty-five years?”

She ground her teeth. “Yes. She has.”

“Wait, how? It’s not in any of our records and that’s way late–”

“Fuck you.” her patience snapped. “I don’t know who you are, but my mother is none of your business. Get out of here or I’m calling the cops!”

The man gasped. “Your mother?” He leaned forward, studied her face, then stood up straight again. “Shit.” He put a hand to his jaw, frowning. “This puts a wrench in things.”

Samantha slammed the door and stalked back to the computer, grabbing her cell on the way. If he knocked again, she was calling the cops. If he wasn’t gone in ten minutes, she was calling the cops. Should she call the cops now?

No. She had work to do.

 

* * * *

 

Eli stormed into the office, tossing the file onto the Doll’s desk and leaned over it. “Want to explain this to me again? With all the information this time? For instance, the part where the firstborn of Marie Parker is in her twenties, and her mother dead?”

The Doll gave him a look. “If you’d read the whole file, it’s all in there. Marie swore her firstborn to Diego in exchange for lifelong happiness. Diego was snuffed before he could pick up the payment.

“How the hell did this get buried for so long? She’s twenty-five for fuck’s sake!”

The construct rolled her eyes. “It was Diego’s case. We just got around to sorting out his outstanding files is all.”

“Talk about your lag time. What are you people doing down here?”

“Look, are you going to finish it or not? It’s easy enough, just read her the same speech you’d read the mother and do it. Done.”

“You’re supposed to give that speech to the mother, who, in case you missed it, is also dead!”

“Technically, she isn’t dead, since her soul hasn’t passed through. So she’s either bound to someone else or still kicking.” The Doll shuffled through her papers again. “Whatever, Eli. Do it however you want. Just do it.”

 
“So I’ve got clearance to do the regular snag and bag?”

“As long as her soul is in the coffers, we don’t care. Diego’s oversight was just stupid, and it’s seriously throwing the balance.”

“Throwing the balance?” Eli frowned. “How?”

The Doll huffed. “We don’t know how. When we tracked the paperwork, we found a long-standing list originating from his death.”

“Anything super serious?”

“Not yet.” She adjusted her glasses. “Honestly, we probably would have tossed the papers altogether if the balance hadn’t come into the equation. That’s what usually happens.”

“I guess it isn’t protocol?”

“Technically the office has the right to pursue the souls regardless. It’s our power which primed them in the first place, and we have first dibs. A lot of time no one wants to pick up the goods. Too much trouble, too much paperwork, too much work when you could just go to the bar and grab one on the fly.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean.” Eli huffed, brushing off his shoulders. For a second there, he’d been sure Samantha had seen through his glamour, glimpsed his true form. That was just creepy. “Seriously, this chick is quarter of a century old and no idiot. She wouldn’t even open the door, much less invite me in.”

“I hate those damn firstborn deals,” the construct mumbled. “Granted, it’s practically a two for one, plus the bonus for innocence and virginity, but when there’s complications it’s never anything a good murder can fix.”

“Aren’t you a ray of sunshine.” Eli waved. “All right. I guess I’ll try again tomorrow.”

“You want my input, Eli?”

“Sure.”

“You did damage when you assumed she was your average target. Figure out how to reverse it. Pull out your blue suede shoes.”

BOOK: Pandora's Ring
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