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DANTE VALENTINE

My working relationship with Lucifer began on a rainy Monday. I’d just settled down to a long afternoon of watching the holovid soaps and doing a little divination, spreading the cards and runes out on the hank of blue silk I’d laid out, when there was a bashing on my door that shook the walls.

“Interesting,” I said, gooseflesh rippling up my back. Then I hauled myself up off the red threadbare carpet and padded barefoot out into the hallway. My rings flashed, a drift of green sparks snapping and popping down my fingers. I shook them off, frowning.

The lines of Power wedded to my front door twirled uneasily. Something nasty was on my front step. I hitched up my jeans, then reached over and curled my fingers around the sword hanging on the wall. I lifted it down, chucked the blade free with my thumb against the guard.

The peephole in the middle of the door was black, no light spilling through. I didn’t bother looking. Instead, I touched the door, spreading the fingers of my right hand against smooth iron. My rings rang and vacillated, reading the flow of whatever was behind the door.

Oh, gods above and below, I thought. Whatever it is, it’s big.

Bracing myself for murder or a new job, I unlocked the door and stepped back, my sword half- drawn. The blue glow from Powerdrenched steel lit up my front hall, glimmering against the white paint and the full- length mirror hung next to my coatrack. I waited.

The door creaked slowly open. Let’s have some mood music for effect, I thought sardonically, and prepared to sell myself dear if it was murder.

I can draw my sword in a little under a second and a half. Thankfully, there was no need to. I blinked. Standing on my front step was a tall, spare, golden- skinned man dressed in black jeans and a long, black, Chinese- collared coat. The bright silver gun he held level to my chest was only slightly less disconcerting than the fact that his aura was cloaked in twisting black-diamond flames. He had dark hair cut short and laser-green eyes, a forgettable face and dreamy wide shoulders.

Great. A demon on my doorstep, I thought, and didn’t move. I barely even breathed.

“Danny Valentine?” he asked. Well, demanded, actually.
“Who wants to know?” I shot back, automatically. The silvery gun didn’t look like a plasgun, it looked like an old-fashioned 9mm.

“I wish to speak with Danny Valentine,” the demon enunciated clearly, “or I will kill you.”
“Come on in,” I said. “And put that thing away. Didn’t your mother ever teach you it was bad manners to wave a gun at a woman?”

“Who knows what a Necromance has guarding his door?” the demon replied. “Where is Danny Valentine?”

I heaved a mental sigh. “Come on in off my front porch,” I said. “I’m Danny Valentine, and you’re being really rude. If you’re going to try to kill me, get it over with. If you want to hire me, this is so the wrong way to go about it.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a demon look nonplussed before. He holstered his gun and stepped into my front hall, peeling through the layers of my warding, which parted obediently to let him through. When he stood in front of me, kicking the door shut with one booted foot, I had him calculated down to the last erg of Power.

This is not going to be fun, I thought. What is a Lord of Hell doing on my doorstep?

Well, no time like the present to ask. “What’s a Lord of Hell doing on my doorstep?” I asked.

“I have come to offer you a contract,” he said. “Or more precisely, to invite you to audience with the Prince, where he will present you with a contract. Fulfill this contract successfully, and you will be allowed to live with riches beyond your wildest dreams.” It didn’t sound like a rote speech.

I nodded. “And if I said I wasn’t interested?” I asked. “You know, I’m a busy girl. Raising the dead for a living is a high-demand skill nowadays.”

The demon regarded me for maybe twenty seconds before he grinned, and a cold sweat broke out all over my body. My nape prickled and my fingers twitched. The three wide scars on my back twitched uneasily.

“Okay,” I said. “Let me get my things, and I’ll be happy to attend His Gracious Princeship, yadda-yadda, bing-bong. Capice?”

He looked only slightly less amused, his thin grim face lit with a murderous smile. “Of course. You have twenty minutes.”

If I’d known what I was getting into, I would have asked for a few days. Like maybe the rest of my life.