Two Kingdoms (Page 1)

Chapter 1

Supposedly, when I make up my mind, I put my head down and accept my fate fearlessly. At least that’s what Lamar said.

He said it with a believable dose of conviction, so I don’t think he was lying.

I just think he’s an absolute idiot.

Because as the Devil wickedly grins at me like I’m the most amusing thing he’s ever witnessed, I don’t feel fearless at all.

Fake it until you make it.

“You want to make a deal with the Devil?” Lucifer asks me, almost parroting my words.

Then he imitates a man who is waiting patiently, as though he expects me to beg to retract my naïve words.

I try to recall exactly what made me think I could pull this off, but it’s too late now. I’ve committed to this role, and there’s no turning back.

I’ve prepared for him to manipulate and trap me into some semblance of my deal, but in reality, I’ll only get a little back. He’ll be like the damn genie with three shitty wishes, so my wording has to be on point.

“Yes,” I tell him with a firm nod. “But on my terms.”

He scratches his chin, studying me a little differently.

“And what, might I ask, exactly are these terms?”

Clearing my throat, I move to take a seat at the end of the bed on the pretty little purple stool there, pretending he’s not the least bit threatening. I try really hard not to react when several other things in the room start weirdly turning purple—even some walls.

He doesn’t move from his spot. The Devil simply watches me. I should not be losing sight of him to track the progress of the rapidly spreading purple. But…it’s sort of shiny and pretty and…soooooo not important.

“My boys will gain access to hell and whatever boosts they need to make themselves more invincible again,” I tell him, readying for his counter offer that will slice my request down to nothing and force me to stand firm.

“Done,” he says with zero resistance and a shrug of his shoulder, like it’s no big deal.

Apparently, I’m aiming a little low.

“But what exactly will I be getting in return?” he asks.

Without hesitation, I say, “I’ve not finished stating my terms.”

He grins. “Of course not. You never did know how to deal.”

Bristling at the familiarity he seems to find in this moment where I feel like a fumbling novice, I go on. “I want them to be able to come and go as they please. They will not be prisoners.”

His grin only grows. “I only assumed as much, Paca. Trickery is reserved for those who don’t have the capacity to make my life miserable, as you well know.”

He narrows his eyes, even as his twisted version of a grin stays in place. It’s a rather unsettling expression.

I’m positive it’s his “evil” expression, if evil has an expression.

But I just learned I have the capacity to make his life miserable. So…there’s some bonus information. I’d prefer definitive confirmation that I have the capacity to end him, but I’ll settle. For now.

“They can visit Hell’s Black Heart to restore their strength the quickest,” he adds.

A cold shudder passes over me. “As guests who can come and go as they please?” I reiterate, super careful about unspoken words that need to be spoken.

He rolls his eyes. “I’ve stated as much already. Why do you insist on hearing it more than once when I still have questions of my own we should be getting to?”

Clearing my throat, I continue.

“Due to my perfected balance, I want the freedom to roam topside when I please,” I go on.

His expression changes, although it’s subtle. It’s the barely-there slant of his head and the way he cuts his eyes toward me like I’ve just asked a slightly surprising question, instead of stating a logical demand.

“Of course,” he says, back to looking just as indifferent, but something has changed.

I can feel it.

And I hate that he’s masking it for some hidden, likely evil, agenda.

To keep him from being suspicious, I go for something that has been nagging at me. I’m sure it would have irked the old me as well.

“My paintings should all be restored to the hallway,” I tell him firmly, intoning no room to broker for less.

He wipes away his smile as his eyes brighten. “You always were vain. I’m surprised you’ve made it this long without demanding that particular request.”

“My vanity is your own doing, since it was an impurity you handpicked for me,” I say, pretending I know everything.

I’m worried it comes across as trying too hard. One would assume the Devil’s daughter would find it a lot easier to be awesomely deceptive.

“Indeed it was,” he answers, but there’s still something peculiar shading his eyes.

“And I want to take hell books with me whenever I please,” I proceed, remembering what the boys said about knowledge being power.

He bats a hand as if to say that is fine as well.

Where is the Devil’s manipulation I’ve heard so much about?

Why is it putting me on edge that he’s not even trying to negotiate me into a shitty deal instead of just accepting my terms with no counter?

“But we still haven’t reached my part of the bargain, have we?” he muses. “What do I get, Paca?”

“I know what you did. You get to live for as long as you leave us be with all the amenities I just mentioned. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”

I’m so proud of how badass my voice sounds.

He nods slowly, his smile slipping a minimal, but still noticeable, bit.

“And what is it that I did exactly?” he drawls.

“Obviously you made sure I died,” I tell him vaguely, leaving an opening just in case he had it done instead of doing it himself.

He may have given someone else power.

Clearly he’s capable of doing far more than most people are aware of, so that’s a huge possibility.

“Is that so?” he asks, sounding ever so intrigued as he takes a step closer. “And how did I do that?”

I hold my hand up and pretend to be annoyed instead of piss-my-corporeal-panties panicky.

“Let’s not play games. I think we’ve done enough of that. I’m stronger than you thought, and I’m back. Stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours.”

He randomly erupts into a fit of hysterical laughter, as though I just told a joke. No one ever laughs at my jokes, but everyone always finds me amusing at inopportune moments of pure seriousness.

And…he laughs for a really long, slightly terrifying amount of time.

Warily, I take a step back, preparing to go phantom.

However, after this continues for an obnoxiously long time, it just grows agitating.

He pretends to be wiping tears of laughter out of his eyes as he faces me again at last.

“You don’t remember a thing, do you? Well, that explains so damn much. Here I was going to punish you for your insolent, long games in such a dire time.”

He’s so damn amused. So damn sure of himself.

“I do remember, Lucifer. I remember it all,” I assure him.

In the next breath, he’s suddenly right in front of me, his hand on my neck. Something crackles in the air, and my skin heats like it’s trying to burn for an intensely brief second.

I try to go phantom, only to watch in horror as his eyes turn solid black—like that cliché that I once carelessly mocked—and I stay frozen in this form.

“You’re very lucky I’m lucid enough to see my daughter’s presence and don’t mistake you for a shapeshifter.” With a dismissive shove, he releases me, and I stagger a little, still dizzy from the power that rushed through his touch.

As he leisurely eyes one of my journals, he begins to slowly move in a predatory gait.

“If you could remember, you’d know I had nothing to do with your death.”

“How convenient,” I bite out, clutching my throat.

It doesn’t hurt at all. The burning dissipated as quickly as it began, and there’s no proof it even happened. He never squeezed or even choked me. But whatever he did has left me unable to go phantom.

“Very neat little trick you picked up since your death—only letting your boys see you.” He struts around so casually, like he hasn’t done anything to me. “Your trick will work again once you’re out of my presence. I mean, clearly you know how to unravel my magic and can fix it yourself now, though,” he goes on, a challenge in his tone.

This is the devil’s manipulation…

I wasn’t prepared for this level. He’s slithered in through the back like a snake—well, that really shouldn’t surprise me—and hit me with a sucker punch.

“I can see we don’t have a deal,” I say tightly.

He just grins. Suddenly, there’s a sword in my hand. I drop it like it’s a scalding block of ice as my heart thumps wildly in my chest.

“Well, now, that’s rather alarming. Is that fear I see on my fearless daughter’s face?” he asks in a deceptively curious tone as I recover.

Rolling my shoulders back, I bend and pick up the sword, ignoring the unsettling feeling of touching it. When I look across at him, he has one of his own.

Are we about to sword fight? Because…that’s totally unexpected and not at all something I could have possibly prepared for.

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