From my rooftop perch, I only counted three measly soldier demons. Wretched traitors, the lot of them. They should count themselves lucky my blade would be the one to end their miserable lives. They’d been following the random bits of divine energy I intentionally released, thinking they’d be the lucky ones to bring me in.
Lucifer fucking Morningstar wouldn’t be caught so easily. Especially not by peons so far down the food chain. It was insulting, honestly.
The trio entered the alley below my position, heads swiveling. I’d been watching them for a while, hoping to catch an errant thought about the state of things in Hell, but their focus had been solely on my capture and return. Over the past year, all I’d gotten from soldiers and scouts alike was Abaddon’s desperation to find me. Capture me.
Fucking chain me again.
I shuddered at the memory of the dark, Hell-forged links. Unbreakable, even for a being like myself—perhaps especially so, having been made for beings like me. I’d had a large hand in creating the damn things, after all. Their original purpose had been for holding prisoners of the war between Heaven and Hell, or for other Fallen who stepped out of line. Never would I have guessed they’d be used against me.
But I’d escaped. Abaddon must’ve been desperate indeed to send such small, pathetic groups as this one. Demons weren’t the brightest, to begin with, but this was ridiculous. It was like he wasn’t even trying anymore, especially if he only ever sent the lower ranks who were intolerant to daylight.
If I started thinking that way, though, I’d get complacent. It would only serve to put me back in those damn chains, which was not an option.
I checked my watch. As much as I wanted to keep playing with them, tearing them apart piece by piece until they gave me something I could use, I had places to be that were much more interesting than this small, boring city.
The soldier demons stopped in the middle of the alley, talking amongst themselves in a guttural language my human ears found unpleasant. It was now or never.
I stood and stepped off the ledge, silently falling five stories to the ground below. Just before I hit the concrete, wings materialized behind me, and a flaming sword appeared in my hand. It was a relic from my archangel days, one I’d rarely used before this year, but it proved effective for ending things quickly.
They barely had time to turn before their grotesque heads bounced off the ground and into the nearby dumpster. By sunrise, there would be nothing left, their bodies already dissolving before they’d even landed. No cleanup was a bonus of fighting creatures from another realm.
It left me unsatisfied, though. That was underwhelming as hell. I should’ve given them a chance to fight back, made it a little bit interesting. Maybe when I had more time.
My sword and wings disappeared, and I straightened my black t-shirt, grateful my wings weren’t exactly physical on this plane. Buying new shirts every time they came out would get fucking annoying, fast. I brushed the dissolving demon residue from my arms and looked around, my senses on high alert for any more attackers. A stray cat cowered under the dumpster, but nothing else.
Time to get home, then.
With a touch of effort that made my ears pop, I appeared in an empty kitchen. Stainless steel countertops, sealed stone floors, three tall rack ovens, three large walk-ins for dry, cold, and frozen ingredients—this place was my sanctuary. Laying low and gathering information got boring fast, especially since most of the demons after me only came out at night, so I’d found something to occupy my time.
Sinsational Sweets was Boston’s newest up-and-coming bakery and pastry shop. It was in a prime location near the waterfront and within walking distance to the University of Massachusetts. In fact, with some blackmail and a very naughty property developer, I’d gotten into an exclusive area nestled among the apartment buildings of Harbor Point. I’d only had to work my charms on the right people to buy one of the lots near the tennis courts, one bordering the main road for public access.
I could be a very convincing person.
Picture windows wrapped around the front of the shop and three small tables lined each side, leaving the center open for the line of customers. White dominated most of the space, with red and black accents that played on the “sin” in Sinsational Sweets. Red tables with tall red and black chairs, and red and black stripes demarcating the center walkway on the white stone floor. The white counter had more stripes along the front, and I’d decorated the white walls with a few commissioned art pieces depicting baked goods with the classic devil horns and tails.
Oh, if mortals only knew…
Walking through the kitchen, I fired up all three ovens, each set to a different temperature, and prepped the dough mixer while I waited on my truck to show up. Along the counters, appliances were stored behind small sliding doors when not in use, and outlets were tucked under the overhead shelves, keeping the workspace clear. I’d designed the entire place myself for maximum efficiency since I was a one-man crew. Humans would be too distracted trying to get into my pants to get any work done, so it was all on me.
They would also be a liability if unwanted visitors ever came by. Regardless of the lore surrounding me, I only punished those who deserved it, and I didn’t want innocents hurt because of my negligence. That was why I’d been trying to keep the demons away from Boston.
I hunted them every chance I got. Since my escape, they’d been out in force looking for me. If I felt them anywhere near, I lured them to another part of the state—or another part of the country, just to keep them on their toes—and took them out.
From soldier demons to my fallen brethren, I would fight tooth and claw to retain my freedom until the time was right. I wasn’t hiding, exactly; I was biding my time in plain sight, under the guise of Sam Rivers, doing the last thing they’d ever expect of the rightful ruler of Hell.
The heat in the kitchen as the ovens did their jobs soothed me. I’d been accustomed to a much hotter climate, and it reminded me of better times. The days when I could torture the souls of the damned in peace. Before lesser demons and the Fallen had elevated themselves above their proper stations. I growled to myself just as a loud buzz at the small loading dock announced the arrival of my eggs. A little late, which annoyed me, but at least they were here.
Word had spread quickly about my shop, and in the few months it’d been open, it was already among the top five most popular bakeries in the city. By six o’clock, the parking lot was nearly full, and a line waited for me. I grinned proudly at the strain in their postures as I unlocked the door. I had little patience for selfishness or entitlement when it negatively affected business, so when one such person made a scene a couple of months ago demanding immediate service despite the line they’d bypassed, I’d made sure it was an issue my regulars didn’t forget.
Most of my customers were the students who lived in the apartments nearby, either on their way to classes or home after a wild party. Sprinkled in were the suits—professors from the universities, most of their sins as cheap as their clothes, and the wealthier businessmen and women, whose regular transgressions were a balm for my immortal essence.
I wasn’t afraid to admit I was a shameless flirt. It made for good business. My pastries were to die for, but my unique brand of charm kept regulars coming back, who in turn brought in new customers. It didn’t hurt that this body was strikingly handsome for a human, fine-tuned for the best results.
I only dealt in perfection.
Camille came in, her shirt much too small for her bountiful assets, and ordered her regular gluten-free coconut muffin. She’d asked me to take her to dinner at least three times. The ring on her left hand seemed to be of no consequence—though it rarely was where I was concerned—and especially so when her husband joined her one morning and left his number, as well.
When Erica came in for her pumpkin scone, she tipped generously. She’d not yet asked for anything, but she flirted as heavily as she applied her make-up. Joshua told me, in no uncertain terms, that he and his partner were very generous with their lovers. Janine had once tried to come by at closing to take me on a stroll by the waterfront, which I politely declined, although the Vaughn twins had been successful a week later.
What could I say? Everyone was a sucker for twins.
But I never got too involved with them, not the way I had in the past. Until I gathered the information I needed, fighting and fucking were the only vices I allowed myself. One night was all I needed from any one person, just enough to relieve the tension in this body. More than that was risking attachment, which I had no desire for in my current state.
“Sam, when are you going to call me?”
Flashing her a bright grin, I handed Vivian her blueberry scone. “All good things are worth waiting for, love.”
Bright red lips peeled back to reveal perfect white teeth. Real diamonds clung to her ears and at least three fingers, so she clearly had money, but I wouldn’t be the one to tell her that her Louboutin’s were very convincing knockoffs. They’d been a gift from her husband to keep her happy while avoiding the dreaded conversation about losing their money to one of his more resourceful mistresses.
“Mmm, don’t keep me waiting too long.” She pouted dramatically and sauntered off, swinging her hips entirely too blatantly.
When most people thought of a good time, they pictured Las Vegas or New York City, but Boston had plenty of sin to keep me satisfied. The more money they had, the more untouchable they thought themselves. My gaze landed on the drawer I’d had to repurpose for the phone numbers that kept “accidentally” getting left behind.
I figured I was due for another night off.
My regulars flooded the store, and the line was starting to wrap around the building. Perhaps I should have made it a drive-through business, but then I wouldn’t get the social interaction I craved. I loved talking to them, teaching them, fucking them, learning what they most desired.
“Ooh, are those strawberry cream cheese-stuffed bagels?”
I locked eyes with the next gorgeous creature in line. Medium brown skin, her hair a mess of spiral curls, a silver stud in her nose, and eyes a shade of brown so dark they looked black. She wore black leggings and a grey UMass sweatshirt hacked off below her ribs, showing off musculature I didn’t typically find attractive on women. I preferred mine on the softer and more pliant side. It certainly worked well for her, though.
Her entire persona screamed au naturel, as opposed to the trying-too-hard, fake Vivian, whose natural hair color had long since been forgotten. She was also a new customer.
“Indeed, they are,” I replied, whipping up my classic charm. “Have a sweet tooth that needs satisfying?”
Her grin was infectious. “More than one, as a matter of fact.” She leaned into the counter and winked. “I’m cheating with carbs today. Best not to tell my clients.”
“Personal trainer?” I guessed.
She licked her lips. “It’s like you can read minds.”
Not entirely true but also not untrue. I wasn’t exactly a telepath—that would make the game far too easy—but sin was something I knew well, and sometimes I caught glimpses; flashes of things people kept close to the surface when I made eye contact.
Eyes were windows to the soul, or so it was said. Sometimes it was the simple power of deduction, though I wasn’t averse to having people give up their secrets willingly. As I said, I could be very convincing.
“I also do private in-home sessions for clients who need extra special attention.” Her eyes looked me up and down, her gaze like a physical weight. “If you’re interested.”
Feisty, this one. I liked it. I wrapped up her bagel and sealed the bag. “I’ll certainly give it some thought.”
She looked out the window at the long line. “Are you the only one working here? Did someone call in?”
“Actually, I haven’t had the time to hire any help.” I chuckled and gave her a megawatt smile. “I didn’t expect business to boom so soon after I opened up.”
Her lips tugged up further on one side as she handed me her credit card. “Well, this place is absolutely adorable, and you’re located in a prime spot. You should’ve known better.”
It was part of the plan, technically, but I wasn’t about to say that. “You live and learn, right?”
I handed her card back and she tapped it on her chin. “If you’re the only one who works here, you should definitely make time to hire someone. Long lines might end up driving customers away, no matter how Sinsational your pastries may be.”
That was a clever little quip. I looked her over again, wondering if she’d be leaving her number this time or play hard to get and wait until her second visit. Built as she was, I was willing to bet she could withstand more punishment than some of my other trysts. The thought had my inner devil pushing at my restraint, begging to test her limits.
She grabbed her bag and left, skipping happily out the door. I realized with a start I hadn’t gotten her name, which was unusual for me. I’d had her bloody credit card in my hand and hadn’t even looked at it. No matter. She’d be back. Once she bit into the deliciousness that was her strawberry cream cheese stuffed bagel, she would need a repeat, carbs be damned.
Peeking out the window at the line again, I sourly admitted she might’ve been right about that part. Business had been increasing daily and, while it was a good thing, even I wouldn’t be able to keep up much longer without using magic, which would bring demons to the city faster than I could blink. I stepped into the back to bring out another tray of scones.
Once the morning crowd died down,