Authors: Allyson Lindt
Other demons fight for these jobs?
Ronnie blinked to restore the moisture to her eyes and keep them from glazing over. The computer’s flat-screen monitor mocked her: Flowers, porn, perfume, candy.
No. No. No. No.
She clicked each as a
and moved on to the next person’s
in the queue. Some holier-than-thou agent of heaven, a representative for
the other side
, would have their chance at the same list she vetoed, and if they decided it was important, they could chase down the lead.
They wouldn’t find a cherub there, even if they decided to pursue. As a retrieval analyst for Ubiquity—
internet search engine for Earth—part of her job was to manually assess results of what mortals searched for online when the automated system flagged a
When it came right down to it, this meant she spent a whole lot of time looking at normal individuals with some kind of fetish or addiction. Ronnie suppressed a yawn. Or, since it was a freaking online search engine, regular everyday people just shopping for the perfect gift for their loved ones.
Did she have loved ones? The unwelcome thought gnawed at her, and she shoved it aside. She was working, not bemoaning her lost memories. Not that work took a lot of focus.
The next individual’s search results flashed onto her screen—online games, social media, twenty-two email addresses.
She swore. The odds were something like one in five gazillion a potential would exhibit anything close to cherub-like behavior.
She flopped against her chair with a grunt, the mesh seat yielding before it snapped back into place. She rolled her eyes as far back as they went to distract her from the monotony. Someone needed to adjust the algorithms. This person wasn’t a cherub, just bored at work. Imagine that.
Geez, this is tedious.
She tried to remind herself to be grateful for what she had. The whole missing memory thing meant she probably wasn’t any good at whatever she actually trained for, and if she wanted to stay on Earth—and who wouldn’t really, so many chances to
—she needed money for things like rent and food.
But damn if it wasn’t so freaking tedious some days. She’d rather be out there—wherever
was—trying to figure out why her past vanished from her mind.
“Back to work, demon.” Raphael’s barked order reached her with a jolt of electricity that zinged through her chair and crawled like tiny ants over her entire body before it seeped out her soles.
Static crackled through her hair as if she’d made out with a balloon.
Ronnie didn’t know why he took issue with her. If the angel was a racist bastard, why wasn’t he zapping any other demons on staff? “Holy fuck. Was that necessary?”
“I don’t care whose pet you are. Watch your language.”
She wasn’t anyone’s pet. And language? Really? Fucking totalitarian, angelic fuck took this dogma shit way too seriously. It wouldn’t do her any good to remind him she preferred to be called Ronnie instead of demon or pet. He’d find a way to twist the request and use it against her.
The moment he was gone, she set her queue to
, grabbed her water bottle, and rolled back from her desk. Outside the building’s wall of windows, green and blue, dotted with the occasional cloud, taunted her. At least her cube came with a view.
She wove her way through rows of cubicles toward heaven’s side of the room. Ariel, Ari for short, had the enviable corner desk. Her window looked out on twice as much rolling landscape. She stood a couple of inches taller than Ronnie, even more so in the high-heeled boots Ari liked so much. Her flame-colored curls bounced around her tan, freckled face in a never-ending waterfall of corkscrews. A perk to being an agent—pesky things like genetics didn’t apply. Their appearances reflected the way they saw themselves, and since most of Ronnie’s colleagues thought highly of themselves, there weren’t a lot of ugly angels or demons.
Ari was one of heaven’s top performers. At the head of the cherub capture list every month. And somehow Ronnie managed to land her as a trainer. Heaven’s stats must be suffering, but Ronnie wasn’t going to point that out. She leaned her weight against the back of Ari’s chair and peered over her shoulder. “Can you take a break?” Ronnie asked.
Gaze straight forward, she held up an index finger and pointed at the lead on her screen. “Yes!” Enthusiasm filled Ari’s triumphant whisper.
“Yay. Another dead end.”
The words rushed inside Ronnie’s head like a shock. Did she think that? It certainly sounded like something she’d think.
“No. It really doesn’t.”
The taunt echoed in her skull, sounding like her, though it wasn’t her thought.
Now she was arguing with herself? If that was the case, why could she almost swear she
the voice? Like a dream or a memory…
She waited a few seconds, but silence greeted her.
Ari spun to face her. “You up for taking this one without any outside interference?” Ari nodded at her screen.
The offer cleared away the odd sensation of another voice in Ronnie’s head. Maybe she shouldn’t have called it that. But when she extracted cherubs, they passed through her as she sent them to hell, so she was familiar with sensation of a second party talking in her head.
Ronnie read over Ari’s shoulder, processing the list of searches and purchases. A little unusual but nothing off the charts. Until she saw the jewelry. Lists and lists. All of it cheap trinkets. Silver, quartz, costume shinies. Watches, chains, a lot of it masculine.
There was that weird mental voice again.
She shook her head to jar the voice loose. She didn’t remember ever talking to herself like that. Wherever it came from, Ronnie or somewhere else, it made a good point. A sharp tingle raced inside. Her instinct was never wrong about these.
said the mental voice.
“You drive; I’ll just observe.” Ari grabbed her purse.
Of course Ari wanted Ronnie to do the phasing. Not that Ronnie was complaining. Most of her colleagues couldn’t easily travel long distances the way she did. It required a shift out of the mortal body to melt into the ether and then transverse space. She was told unlike her, most agents couldn’t travel in an effortless blink. It was supposed to be a painful, draining process, so a capture mission in another state permitted a lot of time to get there and back.
Despite Raphael’s efforts, Ronnie didn’t have separate rules regarding how long a job should take, so no one expected her and Ari back today.
Omaha was new territory to Ronnie, at least as far as she remembered. It sounded like fun. They’d take in the sights while they were there.
She intertwined her fingers with Ari’s. A rush of power roared through Ronnie as she focused on erasing their physical forms and becoming ethereal. Their world blinked out of sight, and a suburban street replaced the Ubiquity offices.
Cherub, cherub, where was the cherub? Ronnie scanned up and down the street. A trickle of disappointment flowed through her. The place looked like every other town: houses lining the sidewalk, the occasional tree, and cars dotted along the curb.
Ari pulled her phone from her purse and showed Ronnie the GPS coordinates from the Ubiquity search engine logs. The location was precise, but her phasing wasn’t. She didn’t have built-in satellite navigation.
“Because your limited experience makes you an authority on creepy.”
Whatever. Ronnie thrust the odd thoughts away and turned left. A warm breeze kissed her bare arms with hints of humidity. At least it was a gorgeous day.
“Shopping after this?” Ari asked as they made their way down the street.
Ari shrugged. “Window shopping, then. And ice cream.”
“Damn straight.” Ronnie couldn’t fight her grin.
Within a few moments, the residential neighborhood thinned, giving way to a strip mall with a diner on the corner. The afternoon sun illuminated random splashes of metal in the parking lot as cars raced by on the main road. The roar of traffic was light, despite the looming rush hour.
It seemed as likely the cherub would be here as anywhere, especially given the
sign in the window, but no one stood out as a target. A cherub tended to be naive, overly enthusiastic, and very friendly. Like a new puppy. Ronnie scrunched her face in disappointment. Did they miss it? No. The tingle in her veins was still there, and it never let her down.
“What can I say? I’m good.”
Yeah, that was definitely odd. Maybe she was rediscovering her ego.
“Afternoon, beautiful.” A harsh edge underlined the seductive greeting, mingling with the growl of engines several yards away.
Ronnie whirled toward the sound and the pull of her instinct. He stood between the dumpster well and the chain-link fence behind the restaurant, shielded from the view of passersby. Loose gravel crunched under her sneakers as she crossed the short distance between them. He leaned against the stucco building. Even farther out of sight.
“Your show,” Ari whispered and took two steps back.
His open designer track jacket showed off gold chains gleaming against his tan. She had to raise her head to look him in the eye, but that was necessary for her with most people.
His dark eyes narrowed as his gaze traveled up her body and lingered on her chest. She resisted the urge to hug herself, grateful for once her small boobs weren’t leer worthy. His attention heated her skin. Something wasn’t right. If there was a cherub in the man, he should be living every sensation to the fullest. He shouldn’t be so composed. So…intimidating.
“Hi.” She caught her bottom lip between her teeth, studying the gleam of his watch. How long since the cherub started occupying this form? It didn’t matter. It wouldn’t be for much longer.
Ari’s instructions replayed in Ronnie’s head.
Get close enough to touch him, keep the contact minimal, and draw the cherub out.
The familiar mantra helped her slide into the extraction. From there it would pass through her, and the right words would send it back to hell.
What was up with the sentiment? Ronnie didn’t miss home that much.
“Are you sure it’s safe for you out here, little demon?” Intense creepiness destroyed any innuendo in his flirting.
The question caught her off guard. How did he know what she was? A cherub shouldn’t possess that kind of knowledge or recognition.
“Maybe he’s more than just a cherub.”
“He certainly isn’t one of us.”
Great. Now Ronnie was talking to herself. The moment the thought materialized, doubt followed it. She didn’t have time to linger on it.
He sneered and lunged, his hand moving so quickly it blurred in the afternoon light before he backhanded her. A ring connected with her cheekbone, knocking her off balance. Concrete bit through the denim of her jeans when her butt slammed into the ground. She muttered a string of curses and fingered her tender cheek. She shouldn’t still feel the sting. Because her physical form was a reflection of her self-image, any wound should heal the instant it happened. Still watching him, Ronnie scooted back as his foot came down where her ankle had been.
“A little help, here,” Ronnie called over her shoulder.
“You’re doing fine,” Ari replied. “But you’re going to have to fight back soon.”
Fight? What the hell? This was supposed to be easy. It had always been easy before. Ronnie rolled away when he lunged. Gravel embedded itself in her bare shoulder, making her wish she opted for something with more coverage than a tank top. She cringed and brushed away the larger rocks. Why was he making this so difficult?
Ronnie forced her tone to stay even as she tried to negotiate. “It doesn’t hurt if you don’t struggle.”
“Like you know that.”
Stupid mental voice.
“I’m all for playing, pretty demon.” A threatening growl obliterated the man’s smooth baritone. “But why don’t you join me in my body instead of pulling me into yours?”
She scrambled to find her footing. Her ankle twisted when she hit a crack in the asphalt at the wrong angel, and she landed on her ass again. The shock raced through her spine and reverberated in her skull.
“What are you doing?” Ari’s bored tone floated through the air behind Ronnie. “Sparring practice? Bag it, and let’s go get ice cream.”
She made it sound so simple. Why hadn’t anyone taught Ronnie how to fight? Was that something she knew before, in the pocket of memories she didn’t have access to? “I don’t know how.”
“Quit screwing around. We all know how to fight.”
“Except for maybe those of us who lost our memories,” Ronnie reminded her, irritation heavy in her voice.
The cherub’s gold chains flashed in the sunlight as he closed in on Ronnie. His gravelly voice rolled over her skin. “Are you sure you want to do this? If you’re struggling, maybe you want to let me have your power instead. There’s room in here for more. It would be easier that way.”