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Ben was too busy for that dinner date after all. In fact, other than a few concerned looks cast in Eden's general direction, he mostly ignored her once the rest of the cops got there.
He asked Constable Santos to give Eden a ride home, but she had him take her to her day job instead. Fifteen minutes later she arrived at Triple-A Investigations, a small, low-end detective agency.
Why Eden currently worked there was very simple.
Her mother, may she rest in peace, loved to play poker. And drink. And neglect her only daughter whenever possible, but that was another story. Recently, she'd won half the agency in a poker game with the owner, Andy McCoy. When she died last month she'd left her share of it to Eden, along with a pair of small diamond-stud earrings.
At least the earrings had some value.
When news reached Eden that half was hers, she'd just lost her job at Psychic Connexions—which meant she was officially looking for work again. She'd gone into Triple-A hoping what was behind the glass front door had more potential than the name of the place.
What she'd found was two desks. Overflowing garbage cans. Peeling wallpaper. The stench of cigar smoke permeated the air. All of this luxury was next door to a coffee bar, also owned by Andy, called Hot Stuff.
Andy wanted to buy Eden out, which was fine with her, but he didn't have any money, whichwasn'tfine by her. So, despite her gut instinct to walk away from the business completely, she moved to the city, rented a small apartment, and started to work there. She didn't have a PI license and had no intention of getting one, so she instead helped out with paperwork, filing, typing, and answering the phone. She'd tried to get the smell of cigars out of the air and walls; however, Febreze could only do so much.
She waited for Andy to get enough money together to pay for her half of the agency.
It had been almost a month. She was still waiting.
In the meantime, Andy did give her reasonable biweekly paychecks to help make ends meet. He wasn't a total tightwad.
"Eden," Andy greeted her when she walked through the glass front door. "I'm glad you're back."
"Trust me, after the day I've had, I'm glad to be back."
Andy was a man who'd definitely had the potential of being attractive and charming at one time, but life and circumstances had gotten in the way to make him pinched and squinty. An FBI agent until fifteen years ago, he was pushing fifty, still solidly built, pale blond hair and eyebrows, and warm and friendly green eyes.
"How did the thing go?" he asked. "With the cop?"
Well, he did ask. "I was attacked by a serial killer who said he was possessed by a demon. I almost died. A gorgeous cop who's a dead ringer for Brad Pitt asked me out for dinner but then reneged and I'm not sure if I should call him. Do you think that would make me look like a stalker?" She sighed. "I may actually throw up at any moment. Just a warning."
His stared at her. "Are you serious about the serial killer?"
"I'm not in a good enough mood right now to joke."
"But you're all right? You're not hurt at all, are you?"
It was sweet of him to care. "I'm okay."
"That's good to hear." He pursed his lips. "Listen, I'd stick around for moral support or whatever, but I have to split. Are you staying long?"
Well, maybe he didn't care that much. "For a while. I'm trying to take my mind off what happened, actually. This place is oddly soothing, despite the décor."
"Well, if you're looking for something to do…;can you enter this all into the computer? I'd appreciate it."
Eden looked at the stack of files he had his hand on. Andy liked to handwrite everything. Eden was one of the only people in the world—she thought—who could decipher his penmanship. Typing was good mindless work and would definitely help her brain focus on something else before she went home. "Yeah, sure. No problem."
He grinned and actually patted her shoulder, placing the folders on top of her desk. "Super. You're a peach, especially after everything you've gone through. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow, okay?"
She nodded. "Sure. Have a good night."
He threw his coat over his shoulder and walked out the front door.
Eden watched him get into his leased red Porsche and drive away. The sky was turning pink and purple and orange as the sun slowly began to sink beneath the horizon.
She walked over to sit at her little desk, feeling oddly despondent about everything after her brush with death.
If she was really, 100 percent psychic, would she be able to see into her own future? What would it hold? Excitement and romance? Or more of the same?
"Place your bets," she murmured. "My money's on more of the same. Bring it on."
She'd recently made a promise to look on the bright side of things after readingThe Secret. Five times. She owned the book, the audio book, and the DVD. If she believed that good things were going to happen, then they would. But the belief had to be complete. She had to clearly imagine what she wanted in life in order to make it happen.
Sure. It was possible.
I'd love more money so I could move out of my crappy apartment,she thought.That would be super.
She'd also love a great job that fulfilled her and would also help others in some way. All she knew was that she hadn't found it yet.
Finally, she'd love to find a wonderful man who loved her for who she was inside.
Believe it. Feel it. See it. Be it.
Her stomach still growled with hunger. And the universe provided an immediate solution. There was a big box of Hot Stuff donuts and pastries over on Andy's desk. There was also a pot of coffee that actually looked remotely fresh.
She picked up a Boston cream and devoured it in about five seconds, very glad there was no one there to witness it. She then grabbed an apple fritter, put it on a paper towel, and fixed her coffee—two creamers, two sugars. She tipped the mug back and swallowed a mouthful.
The warm liquid swished around in her stomach as she felt something else. A strange tingling sensation began to spread through her body and down to her arms and legs.
She put the mug down and held her palm over her stomach.
"Maybe that coffee wasn't as fresh as I thought," she said aloud.
"Hello? Can you hear me?"
The male voice made her turn around to see where it came from, but there was nobody in the office except for her.
"Hello?" she responded cautiously.
She felt a small lurch in her gut.Indigestion so quickly?Perhaps she should have had a salad. The nutrition gods were trying to tell her something.
"Who are you?" the voice spoke again.
Eden's gaze darted around the room. What was going on? Her body immediately tensed and her heart began to pound—hard. She was still feeling the effects from being grabbed by the serial killer earlier, and it was likely she'd do so for a while.
"Who areyou?" she asked. "Whereare you? Andy's gone for the day."
"You're a woman." Whoever this was sounded surprised by that.
"Good guess. Now you're going to have to tell me who you are and where you're hiding or we're going to have a problem. I'm not a big fan of hide-and-seek."
"You can hear everything I'm saying?" He sounded surprised.
She swallowed hard. "Of course I can."
"It's just that the others…;well, most of them haven't been able to hear me at all. And the ones who could didn't hear everything clearly."
She curled her hand around the baseball bat she kept under her desk. One could never be too careful. Triple-A wasn't exactly in the city's best neighborhood.
"What others?" she asked.
"My other…;my otherhosts. Look, I don't want you to be afraid—"
"We're getting a bit late for that, whoever you are." She gripped the bat tightly and stood up from the desk. Nobody else was going to sneak up on her. One serial killer a day was her limit.
She nudged open the door to the small bathroom with her foot. The office was completely empty. She began to tremble. Even if someone had been hiding, their voice wouldn't be so loud in her ears. So loud that it sounded as if it was coming from—
Inside of me.
"You're the woman with the long, reddish hair, aren't you? He wanted to kill you. And then—" He paused. "Then I don't remember much—it's fuzzy right now. Was he killed? Of course, he had to be or this wouldn't have happened."
"How do you know about that?" she demanded, and began to shuffle backward into the far corner by Andy's bookshelf. "I'm going to call the cops if you don't leave me alone."
"There was a cop there. A tall man with blond hair. He had a gun."
"How do you know what happened?" She glanced under Andy's desk, which would have made a good hiding spot. But other than three balled-up pieces of paper that hadn't hit the trash can, there was nothing there. "I just want to be left alone. Honestly, I'm not really as psychic as people seem to think. Checking the coat closet was a lucky guess. It's calledcoincidenceand it happens all the time."
"You're psychic?" he repeated. "Right, he mentioned that. He thought you might be able to help him get rid of me."
Eden frowned deeply. "Get rid of you? The killer said he was possessed by a demon he desperately wanted out of him."
Her head spun just thinking about it. Demons didn't exist. Of course they didn't. That was crazy.
Besides, a demon wouldn't sound like this, would it? Her newly discovered inner voice was deep, warm, and calm. She would have expected a demon to sound scary and, well,demonic. Her hands began to ache as she clutched the bat tighter.
"The important thing is not to panic," the voice said.
"What the hell is going on here?"
"Really,demonis a bit of a derogatory word, isn't it?" he continued conversationally. "I promise I mean you no harm at all. I did what I could to keep my former host from hurting you and luckily it all turned out okay. Well, sort of okay. Now if we can just talk about—"
"You…;you're a d-demon?" she stuttered.
"Well…;technically, yes I am. But just try to relax. I know this is a bit of a surprise, but everything's going to be fine."
No, it wasn't possible. Not a chance. Demons didn't exist. She must have had some kind of mental breakdown. Now,thatwas possible. It had been a very traumatic day. Something deep in her psyche must have cracked open wide enough for her to suddenly hear a voice in her head.
"Everything's going to be fine?" she repeated through clenched teeth. "I don't think so. I need to go to the hospital. I need a psych evaluation. I've obviously gone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs."
"No, you haven't. I'm sorry, but I can't survive without a human host, otherwise I'll dissipate into the air like smoke. I had no choice. There were two of you there, you and the cop, and it was a fifty-fifty chance that I ended up with you—although, I've got to say, you're my first female host ever. This should be very interesting."
She licked her dry lips. Her muscles were so tight she thought they might snap like overused hair elastics. "Did you say smoke? Likeblack smoke?"
Black smoke had left the dead killer's body and flew through the air toward her. She'd since dismissed it as a figment of her traumatized imagination, but now…;
"You're ademon," she said it so quietly even she had trouble hearing it.
"And you've possessed me."
"If you put it that way it sounds a bit ominous, doesn't it? I'd rather think of it as 'sharing living space.'"
It was true. She'd seen it with her own eyes when the serial killer had been killed. The black smoke hadn't just been smoke—it wasthe demonhe'd claimed to be possessed with. The demon that was nowinside of her.
For a moment she was positive she'd faint. The feeling passed, but the steadily growing fear that filled her remained.
"Get out of me," she said softly.
"That does sound like an excellent plan, but you need to understand, this isn't my choice. I haven't been able to exist outside of my host since—"
"Get out right now!"Eden clutched the baseball bat so tightly she was sure she'd get splinters. She put every ounce of energy she could summon from the universe into those four words. She'd never felt so fierce or certain about anything in her entire twenty-nine years of life—and that included kicking her cheating jerk of a fiancé out six months ago. Although, it was still a close second.
She felt rather than heard the demon gasp inside of her—inside her head, her chest, her entire body. As if she'd been punched in the stomach she let out a wheezing breath and doubled over as the black smoke exited through her mouth in one dark, tasteless, odorless stream. She scrambled back from it until she hit the wall behind her and held the bat up as if that would be enough to protect her from Hell itself.
The smoke hung there like a small black rain cloud, unmoving, five feet in front of her, for a few more moments. Then something changed. She watched, stunned, as it began to take on a recognizable shape. The entire process took less than thirty seconds, but it was as if time itself had stopped. She couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't think. All she could do was watch—waiting for a large, red, hulking, horned Hell-beast to appear and devour her whole.