Bedeviled & Beleaguered

Series: Bedeviled & Beyond, book 3
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-943845-49-1
Publisher: Electric Prose Publications

 


As a poisonous magic veil descends over Earth, turning humans into mindless killers and threatening another Great War between the magic and non-magic populations, Astra and the devilish Dialle must find a way to save humankind and defeat Satan himself. With madness rolling over everyone in waves and the guardian angels succumbing to a rare disease called Devil’s Plague, Astra finds herself walking a thin line between dark and light to vanquish the coming evil. Through it all, Astra and Dialle are still trying to forge a relationship together, despite the fact that they might be, once again, on opposite sides of the coming battle. Could it all be more than Astra Q Phelps can handle? There’s only one way to find out!



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"This is one of those series filled with all the good things I want in fiction. I can't imagine ever getting tired of books like these where the characters and dialogue make the action come alive for the reader!"

~ The Romance Studio


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CHAPTER ONE

Girls’ Night Out?

Into the demon’s lair she goes, to find a surly miss,

But what she finds cannot be true…A devil dating sis?

 

Of all the things I thought I’d be doing that night, rescuing my magic-phobic sister, Darma, from a group of “enthusiastic” admirers at the demon nightclub Castle Gregg, was not one of them.

Obviously I was surprised when I got the summons from Dialle. It was a toss-up over whether I was most surprised by the fact that he knew my sister was at Castle Gregg and the fact that she was there at all.

Darma’s older than me by five years. She’d served as both sister and mother to me throughout my childhood. Since our real mother had led a busy and secretive life, which apparently hadn’t been entirely compatible with her role as a mother, Darma’s inclination toward mothering had worked out fine for everybody but me. She’d always felt it was within her rights to tell me how to live my life. And she’d always been dead set against the use of magic, in all its forms.

Darma’s the sturdy, serious, dependable daughter. I’m the hot-headed, passionate and borderline psychotic spawn. I’m the dark side of a pairing between a devil and an angel. Darma is the cranky and all-too-serious, but light side. It’s always been an accepted fact in my family that Darma has no powers and, with her size nine feet resolutely planted on terra firma, she appears to have a severe allergy to all things unearthly and magical.

Which is why it was more than strange to hear she was cavorting with all manner of magical creatures.

I dropped the Viper into hover on the street just outside Castle Gregg and climbed out, sending it skyward with a command. Engaging the security system, I started across the moat bridge to the castle.

The doors of the place stood open to emit some of the noise, light and smoke from the packed bar. An array of ugly demons and not so ugly humans mingled in the doorway and on the bridge. I pushed my way through them, cringing away from the grasping, wormlike appendages on some of the demons’ heads.

I could see the demons in their true form. Humans saw only the mask the demons wanted them to see. Which was generally very pretty. So humans, if they even knew they were interacting with demons at all, thought demons were exceptionally pretty creatures.

Humans have an abundance of good traits. Their inability to see true evil when it’s licking a long, warty tongue up the length of their throats is not one of them.

I shoved my way through the door and immediately started looking for my sister. The crush of bodies in the cavernous place made that task all but impossible.

A few months back, Castle Gregg’s principle competitor, Demonica, had been burned to the ground by the Royal Devils in a pissing contest between the two dark factions. Castle Gregg was definitely reaping the benefits of that battle.

I decided it would be easier just to ask Dialle where she was. I stopped trying to push my way aimlessly through the crowd and concentrated my efforts inward. Dialle.

Astra, my love. Dance with me. Hot breath caressed the back of my neck, followed quickly by the feather-soft touch of lips. I jumped and then sighed as his arms came around me from behind and our bodies melted together almost without a thought.

We stood swaying gently to the music, which had somehow gone from ceiling-beam-quivering laser rock to loin-tingling romantic. Within the space of a single heartbeat.

Did you do that? His lips nuzzled the curve of my ear, followed by gentle nibbling.

What good is being a Royal Prince if there are no perks.

I grinned. Is that one of the perks I’m feeling against my backside?

Definitely.

Suddenly Dialle stiffened and sighed. Things worsen. We are needed.

We left the plane of sound and movement and drifted for a moment, returning to chaos in the midst of a scene that was guaranteed to strip a few years from my life.

Darma was sitting crossways in a chair, with a very ugly demon underneath her. His treelike black arms were wrapped around her waist, pinning her arms to her sides, and he was grinning in a not very nice way.

Torre, Dialle’s younger and less powerful brother stood directly in front of the demon, slim shoulders squared, and lean, muscular legs spread. His hands reached forward and slightly to his sides, palms upward. His face was nearly purple with outrage.

Darma looked as if she was ready to pee herself.

I fervently wished I could communicate with her telepathically, but I had to settle for Dialle. What’s going on?

The demon is taunting Torre. He uses his feelings for your sister against him.

Feelings? What feelings? I slid my gaze to Dialle, my mind bursting with questions I didn’t have time to ask.

He shook his head. I’ll explain later.

Why doesn’t he just explode the ugly sucker and grab Darma back?

It’s complex. You know how your sister feels about magic?

I scrunched up my nose and nodded. I see your point.

Torre is incapable of defeating the demon without using his powers and if he uses his powers Darma will never speak to him again.

I recognize this dilemma, I’ve been living it all my life.

Yes.

So what can we do? Should I blast the demon for him?

Dialle looked horrified. No, you must not! If you have to save your sister Torre will look weak in her eyes.

I blew out a breath in frustration. Then what?

I do not know. I’m thinking.

I crossed my arms under my breasts and scowled at the ugly demon. He laughed, apparently thinking he had us over a barrel. Actually he kind of did.

How about if I slip up behind him and tag him. Then Torre can grab Darma while I have him distracted and give him a power-induced punch in the nose.

Dialle thought about my suggestion for a moment. I’ll create a distraction.

I melted back into the crowd, forcing myself not to look at my sister’s terrified face or the way her blue eyes widened when she saw me leaving. Since I’m barely five feet tall, it’s pretty easy for me to become invisible. I worked my way around to a spot where I figured I was behind the demon and then pushed through the crowd until I was standing close to his table.

He was sitting with three other demons.

As I was deciding the best way to handle his friends, one of them caught the sharp end of a power jolt and flew backward into the crowd, chair and all.

I reached out and shot a quiet jolt into the one closest to me and he slumped over, unconscious. Dialle blasted the third one away from the table before he could do more than lumber to his feet.

That left only the one holding Darma hostage. Before he could react, I reached out and placed the palm of my hand over the front of his throat and sent my power into him. He choked as his breath was cut off and started to struggle against my power. He released my sister and tried to grab his throat.

Torre grabbed Darma’s arm and yanked her away.

I let go of the demon’s throat and ducked as my sister spun around and Torre pounded a suspiciously powerful fist into the demon’s ugly mug.

Knowing what was coming my way, I scurried away as fast as I could on my hands and knees, but the demon still landed on my legs. Fortunately the crowd closed around us and I didn’t think Darma had seen me.

I jerked and yanked, trying to get free and then had a “der de der der” moment. Pulling my power forward I used it to raise the hefty ugly off my legs and scrambled out from under him. I reemerged in front of my sister a moment later looking, hopefully, innocent and perplexed. “What happened?”

Darma had been making kissy faces at Torre but when she saw me her pretty face folded into its usual, Astra-induced scowl. “Torre rescued me from that brute. No thanks to you. Where did you go anyway?”

Dialle put an arm around my shoulders and indicated the two bouncers who were yanking the unconscious demon off the floor and dragging him away. “I sent her to get help.”

Darma’s scowl smoothed just a little and she actually gave me a small smile. Then she threw Dialle a scowl and turned back to Torre.

Dialle grinned, shrugging. “She’s mad at me for blasting those demons.”

I shook my head and rolled my eyes. “Issues.” Then I grinned. “Nice distraction by the way.”

His black eyes sparkled and he raised my hand to his lips. Instead of kissing the hand as I expected he opened his lips and sucked the tips of my fingers into his hot mouth.

One at a time.

Oh so slowly.

My knees wobbled underneath me.

Unfortunately, the moment was ruined by my sister’s less than soothing tones. “Astra! We’re leaving.”

I jerked my head toward the nails-on-blackboard sound of my sister’s voice and looked upon her with dazed eyes. “Huh?”

Dazzling wit aside, I was shocked to see her clutched in Torre’s delicately muscular arms. “Wait a minute. You and I need to have a little talk.”

She actually looked a little guilty for a split second but she quickly regained her equilibrium. “I agree. But not here and not right now. We have…plans.” She looked up into Torre’s eyes and smiled. The smile made me distinctly uncomfortable. Partly because I so rarely saw her smile and partly because it was a smile filled with secrets and intimacy. My sister didn’t do intimacy. She barely did civil. And with a Royal? Impossible.

I opened my mouth to argue but she’d already forgotten me. She and Torre turned away and melted into the crowd. I started to follow but Dialle’s hand on my arm stopped me.

“Let them go. You can talk to your sister tomorrow.”

I pulled my arm from his grasp, suddenly angry. Not at him, of course but he seemed to be the only one available for me to pound on verbally. “What the hell is going on, Dialle? How long has my sister been dating your brother? Why didn’t you tell me about this relationship?”

He grabbed my hand and we were suddenly on the dance floor together, buried in the mass of humanity with a couple of feet of space all around us so we could dance. If you could call it dancing. It was actually more like mating, upright, with all our clothes on.

Dialle wrapped both arms around my waist and pressed himself against me, feathering kisses over my face and nibbling in strategic spots to take me completely off my game. I started to forget what I’d been mad about. Lifting my arms I wrapped them around his neck and clasped my hands loosely behind his head, sighing happily.

When he spoke in my ear a moment later it felt less like conversation and more like an extension of our mating ritual. His breath was hot and smelled of sexual fire and sweet promises to come.

“I just found out about Darma and Torre tonight. Apparently they’ve been seeing each other for months. Darma made him keep it from me.”

Calm now and refocusing my hot blood in another direction, I barely registered his words. I let my body drape around his and closed my eyes. The music that cocooned us on the dance floor was raw and wild, almost savage. The base throbbed in my mind and stomach and moved lower, causing me to press myself tightly against Dialle, wrapping one leg around his thighs.

He groaned and said, “Let’s get out of here.” But before he could whisk us away, the air on the dance floor changed and we were suddenly joined by my damnable guardian angel, Flick.

He poked me on the shoulder.

“Go away!” I murmured into Dialle’s hard chest, trying mightily to ignore him.

He poked me on the shoulder again.

“What!” I lifted my head, fixing him with an angry gaze.

My new guardian angel smiled nervously. I was still having trouble getting used to him and, I’ll admit it, hadn’t been very nice since he replace my aunt Myra. After decades of dealing with Myra the cranky and firm, I was saddled with a guardian who was shy and timid. I’d been assured that he was fully able to protect me in my…shall we say…challenging life but I was unconvinced, to put it mildly.

Flick slid a telling gaze toward Dialle, his mild brown eyes going hard for a split second before returning to me. “You are needed elsewhere.”

I frowned and stopped dancing. “What do you mean I’m needed elsewhere?”

Flick shrugged and, before I knew what he was doing, reached out and touched me with the tip of one long, pale finger.

I cursed silently as we left the plane of sound and movement and speculated that forced spaceshifting must be part of a guardian angel’s training.

Guardian Angel 101, creep up on your hapless charge and shift her wherever you please, against her will.

I’d been tricked the same way about a thousand times with Myra.

We landed on cracked, weed-infused concrete. A strong wind blew my dark auburn hair off my shoulders. As soon as my mouth would work I started spewing foul deprecations in every language I knew, including Hades, at my sneaky, damnable angel.

That, also, was business as usual between me and my guardians.

Flick just stood there looking paler then ever until I started to wind down. Then he peaked one mousy brown eyebrow and glanced meaningfully toward the glass and steel building squatting beside us.

I turned to see a knot of children, probably about ten or eleven years old, huddled in a lighted doorway together, giggling behind their hands.

I turned my back on them and lowered my voice. “Why didn’t you tell me they were there?”

Flick’s mouth flapped helplessly for a minute and then a sickly smile slid onto his nondescript face. He shrugged, “You really should consider taking some anger management classes, Astra.”

Stiffening, I opened my mouth to scour the air again but he jerked his head toward the school and I turned to find the entire group of children waiting with expectant faces for their next lesson in gutter language. I closed my eyes on a sigh. “We’ll discuss this later.” I was determined to train my current guardian angel much better than the last one. She was my aunt, although I’d only found that out recently, and had kept a watchful and protective eye on me since I’d been a baby. I really hadn’t had a chance to train her up right.

Turning toward the school, I started walking. Flick, in human-type jeans and a sweater so he could walk beside me without the kids knowing what he was, fell into step a little behind and to the left of me so he could guard my weaker side. I had done some training already.

Glaring at the knot of pre-pubescent humans standing in front of the door as I approached, I shooed them off the steps, “You kids go home now. You aren’t supposed to be here.”

“What’s going on, lady?” The young boy had spiky black hair and thick dark eyebrows that looked like fat caterpillars. His face was extremely pale and almost too delicate to belong to a boy. I figured the oversized clothes and pierced nose were ways to compensate. I felt his pain. I’d been compensating for being small all my life. But that didn’t mean I was gonna be nice to him. He needed to get the hell out of there.

“I don’t know yet but whatever it is it will probably eat you kid, so go on home.” When he just stood there looking at me I took a threatening step toward him. I might be small but I was way bigger than him. And meaner too. “Go on! Shoo, bidgie bug.”

He jumped and turned, starting down the steps at a pace that was leisurely but not naturally so. He jerked a little about every third step, like he wanted to take off running but didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of the girls.

Flick and I entered the building amid a chorus of snickers. “Where’s the demon?” I asked in an undertone to Flick.

“In the lunchroom.”

I gave him a sickly smile, “Of course.”

The halls were suspiciously quiet. Flick explained to me as we headed toward the lunchroom that the demon had been discovered and contained before it could do much more than terrorize a couple of the ladies who were in charge of keeping the food distribution modules filled. The kids at the dance hadn’t even known they had a demon in their midst. They’d been quickly evacuated and sent home.

The school officials and adults had stayed behind, apparently thinking they could do something to help.

The Big Guy knows what. The average demon could eat the whole passel of pinch-faced people in that hallway without even breaking a sweat.

As we approached the closed double doors of what I assumed was the lunchroom, a woman stepped forward and offered me her hand. “Mx. Phelps. Thank God you’re here.”

Yes, He was responsible for you being here. Flick commented with a wry smile.

I slid him a quick glance before taking the woman’s sweaty hand. “Has it hurt anyone?”

The woman’s face was unnaturally pale. She wrung her hands nervously. Shaking her graying head she said, “I don’t know. I heard screaming earlier.” Tears leaked from her light colored eyes, “I think the lunchroom ladies might be injured…or…worse.” She gulped. “But thank God we had a priest in the building and he’s been huddled in front of the door praying since it happened. He’s been able to hold it in up until now.”

I nodded. “There were some kids on the front steps. I told them to go home but somebody should go check to make sure they left.”

The woman nodded and turned to look at the man behind her.

“I’ll go,” the man said. He started off down the hall, looking relieved that he had something to do.

They split apart to let Flick and me through. A small man dressed in stark black and white was kneeling before the door. He was on his knees, praying fervently. I touched him on the shoulder and the Latin based words he’d been muttering ceased abruptly as his gaze shot toward me. The priest sat back on his heels, sighing in what appeared to be relief. Then he looked up toward the ceiling and clasped his small hands together, raising them upward in front of his face, “Thank you Lord for delivering me of this horrible burden. Amen.”

He stood and offered me a shaky hand. “Go in His name, child and…” his weary brown eyes slid toward the door and he suppressed a shiver, “—be very careful.”

I took his hand and he squeezed mine warmly. Then his gaze slid to Flick and he gave a little start. “Well I’ll be…”

“Thank you, Father.” I said quickly before he could give Flick away.

The little priest slammed his mouth shut but continued to stare at Flick with a look of awe on his face. Flick gave him a nervous smile and turned with me toward the door.

As I put my hand out to open the door I glanced back at the priest, “You might want to continue praying, Father. Just in case it manages to get past me.”

His awestruck expression slid away and his eyes widened. I realized he hadn’t even considered the possibility that I might fail. “Oh…oh my. Yes, I’ll do that.”

He was dropping back to his knees with a muffled groan as I pulled the door open just enough to allow me and Flick to slip through.

The first thing I noticed was the smell of blood and violence. Then I saw the bright red smears along the tile floor and spattered across the wall. I slid a glance to Flick and he shook his head.

There were no living beings in that room.

Sighing, I closed my eyes and threw out my sensing power, slowly sliding it around the room. I almost missed the demon the first time around. It had hidden itself behind the bodies of the three women and a man, probably the lunch ladies and the janitor. The bodies had all been dragged into a corner of the room, arms and legs and dead, sightless faces tangled together in a sloppy pile. Their souls had already fled, leaving a blank spot in my sensing power as it slid past them.

I reached out and stopped Flick with a hand on his arm. We were standing just about twenty feet from the demon. Opening my eyes, I jerked my head for him to move away from me. We would work better together if we spread out, giving the demon two targets to worry about rather than one.

It was the type of instruction I would never have had to give Myra, since she was a member of the celestial army and therefore well trained in combat. But Flick was unskilled in combat, although I’d quickly discovered he had a natural ability and was an extremely quick study.

Once Flick was in position, I straightened to my full five feet and not much more height and said, “Demon show thyself.”

It was a summons with power woven into it and it couldn’t be ignored.

The pile of bodies started writhing, startling me at first before I realized the demon was burrowing under the dead humans, and a scaly snout started to emerge. The head that followed was large, nearly two feet across and oval shaped, with a squared off snout and slitted red eyes.

A snake demon, I told Flick.

He didn’t respond but I could smell his fear from where I stood. Don’t tell me, you hate snakes.

I do, yes. They terrify me.

Awesome.

Writing him off completely as being any help at all, I figured I could always call Emo if I needed help with the thing and settled into a battle stance.

The snake demon, known as the legendary Basilisk in human legend, was actually not the hundred foot long creature that had been portrayed. It was a relatively small demon of only about thirty feet or so. It couldn’t kill me or any magical creature with a glance but it was true that it could kill humans just by catching their eye.

I shuddered as I thought of the humans outside the door. Flick, go tell them to evacuate the school. Now!

He hesitated. I knew he was reluctant to leave me with the demon, despite his fear of it. It’s okay. I can vanquish this thing. But it might take me a while and I don’t want to risk it getting through those doors. Go tell them, okay?

A silence of a few beats throbbed between us and then he said simply, “Okay.”

I waited until I heard the door open and close and then gathered my power. The jolt I fired at the demon pinged harmlessly off the tile floor. I’d forgotten how fast the damn things were.

It was almost on top of me before I realized and I threw myself backward, landing on my hands and springing back to my feet to stay between the demon and the door. It stopped a few feet away from me, raising its huge head and testing the air with a long, forked tongue. I knew it was trying to sense my fear but I was ready for it. I had a deep respect for Basilisks but I’d bested worse and I had no intention of letting it slither out that door.

I fired another power arrow at the thing and it shifted away in the blink of an eye. Unlike last time, I anticipated the evasive maneuver and immediately shot a second arrow about a foot to the left of my first one.

I was gratified to hear the demon scream in pain as my beam of energy sliced about two feet off the end of its body.

Rearing up, it struck back before I could move away, sinking its fangs into me and leaving two large holes in my thigh. I bit back a scream and pulled my power forward, shifting to the left of it and then shooting a jolt of power into its slit of an eye before it could react.

The head whipped around and it struck toward me again, but I was ready for it. I leaped over the whipping oblong head and landed on the other side, shooting another jolt into the frantically thrashing body. I managed to tear a fist sized hole in its thick body just behind the head. Black blood ran from the hole and sizzled upward in a wide arc from the whipping body.

I jumped away from the acid-like substance and it landed just in front of my boots.

The demon struck again, catching a five inch long tooth in the top of my boot and ripping the soft leather all the way to my ankle. It dug a deep gouge out of my shin on the way down. Shit! Why do they always go for the boots?

I raised my hand to blast a hole in its head just as it grabbed what remained of my boot and flung its head upward with a violent jerk, pulling me off my feet and sending my power arrow harmlessly into the wall behind it. Wood splintered behind the demon, followed by the acrid scent of smoke.

I sailed over the snake demon’s head, hanging in the air long enough to twist my body before I hit the wall so that I slammed into it with my back instead of my head. The impact knocked the wind out of me but I stayed conscious, which was what I’d been hoping for.

I slid down the wall and landed on something soft that smelled like raw meat. My horrified gaze slid to the man at the top of the pile. The demon had apparently been hungry because a large portion of the man’s chest was missing.

I gagged and leaped back to my feet. The monster fixed me with a cold, red gaze. I held that gaze for a moment, trying to figure out what it was thinking. That was when I realized there was nothing between the door and the demon.

And the door had a huge hole in the middle of it.

The demon’s wide snout opened in what looked suspiciously like a grin and it surged toward the exit, aiming for the hole in the center.

I panicked, pulling as much power as I could gather into my fingertips. The energy cocktail sizzling in my palms included power I’d grabbed from engaging the daemon hickey on my neck, tapping into Dialle’s power. I flung out my hands, flinging every bit of my accumulated energy at the demon.

He exploded into several pieces just as he reached the door, the pieces slamming against the splintered wood.

The walls of the room shook from the force of impact.

Dropping to my knees from exhaustion, I gasped, “To Hades with thee fool, for God hath tired of you.”

I leapt to my feet and ran toward the door. Yanking it open, I peered through a fog of smoke, looking for the small priest. He was lying on his back several feet from the door. I prayed fervently as I ran to him. If I’d inadvertently killed him with an errant power arrow I’d never forgive myself.

Kneeling beside him, I felt for a heartbeat. Fortunately, it was beating strong, really strong, as if he was running on an adrenaline cocktail. His eyes shot open as I checked his body for holes or gouges. Finding none, I reached under his scrawny shoulders to help him stand.

He groaned a bit as I helped him to his feet but he seemed unharmed. I turned him away from the door. “Don’t look at any of the debris until I’ve had a chance to examine it. I need to find and extinguish the eyes.”

He nodded, not asking the obvious question, which told me he’d known all along what was behind that door.

The air shifted behind me and I turned to find Flick in his robes. “I got them all out.”

I nodded, “Thanks.”

He shrugged, “Least I could do.”

The little priest was staring wide eyed and open mouthed at Flick. Finally he reached out a small, gnarled hand and Flick took it. “I am truly blessed in your presence,” said the little man.

Flick blushed. He wasn’t used to being worshipped. He really wasn’t all that powerful.

I grinned and jerked my head toward the mess in the hallway. “I’m just gonna pick through this gore and find the demon’s eyes. Why don’t you two go have a cup of tea or something.”

Flick’s eyes widened in horror and I couldn’t help laughing.

He tried to pull his hand away but the little priest held on tightly.

“I’ve always known you existed but I never dreamed I’d get to see you. Thank you for protecting me all these years.”

Flick blanched and his brown eyes flew to me. I shrugged. It was against the Big House rules to reveal another guardian to a human, so Flick could hardly explain that he wasn’t the one the little priest should be thanking. But his innate goodness made him feel guilty for taking credit for someone else’s hard work. Finally he just smiled and laid his other hand over the priest’s. “You’re welcome. Go in His name.”

The little man, thinking himself both blessed and dismissed, let go of Flick and shuffled down the hall, looking a bit shell-shocked but happy.

“Good thinking.” I told Flick with a grin.

He shrugged. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up before anybody sees it.”

 


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