Asmodeus: Demon of Lust

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If you got into this book when it was serialized and want to download any of the individual episodes, you can download them at SMASHWORDS!


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When Kai Kelly inherits her estranged grandfather’s estate in Bliss, Idaho, life becomes anything but blissful. The discovery of a beautiful, but unusual, ring in the attic leads to much more than she bargained for. Kai may not realize what she has in her possession, but the boys in Hell sure got the message.
Lucifer and the six other princes of Hell existed for several millenniums believing that the Ring of Solomon, an object with the power to control demons, had been destroyed.

However, the moment Kai slips the ring on her finger, the tremor of its power ripples through the underworld.
Knowing the ring’s existence could mean the destruction of all demons, Lucifer sends his six princes to earth in search of the ring and its bearer. There’s one catch; a demon can’t take the ring from its owner. It must be given willingly or they have to be dead.
Asmodeus, the Demon of Lust, is happy to have another opportunity to visit the mortal world and dally with a human female…or twelve. However when he arrives on earth, he realizes Lucifer has made all the demons mortal in an effort to keep them motivated, focused on their mission and immune from the powers of the ring.
When Asmodeus meets Kai along a deserted section of highway in Magic Valley, it’s more than the ring she wears that catches his eye. He plans to woo the ring out from under her but before long, the lines between lust and love blur.

When the other members of the brotherhood realize Asmodeus has found the ring, they descend on Bliss, determined to get the ring from Kai at any cost.
When Asmodeus is faced with choosing between the brotherhood and his one true love, he realizes the battle for Hell is nothing compared to the battle for her heart.

 

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Chapter One

Struggling with the skeleton key, Kai swore under her breath as she fought to open the attic door of her grandfather’s old colonial house. Her mouth was set in a firm line as she wrestled with the uncooperative lock and reminded herself it was now her house. For better or for worse, the enormous place was now hers.

Kai hadn’t ever met her maternal grandfather and if it weren’t for an old picture her mom kept she wouldn’t even have known what Jacob Kelly looked like. Kai’s parents were killed in a car crash a couple of years ago, and not only did the jerkoff skip the funeral, he didn’t even call. Not a card, a note, a text. Nothing. Not a Goddamn word.

What a prince.

Then about a month ago, Kai received a call from Ben Flaherty. He claimed to be an attorney in Idaho and said that she was the sole beneficiary of her grandfather’s estate. At first she thought it was a joke or a scam or something, like one of those emails from the guy in Kenya who said you inherited a billion dollars. But after learning a few pertinent facts, she realized it wasn’t a joke.

Ever since her parents died it was like she’d been traveling under a dark cloud of shitty luck. Kai’s little tarot shop in New Hampshire went belly up last year, her boyfriend cheated on her—again.

Needless to say, life was sucking in a big, fat way. The only soul in the world Kai could count on was her Siamese cat, Zephyr, and she was a moody little thing. So, when Mr. Flaherty had laid it all out, the inheritance wasn’t easy to turn down.

The property was in Bliss, Idaho with a whopping population of about three hundred people, but when Kai heard that Bliss was located in Magic Valley, that was when she knew it was all going to be okay. She’d always been fascinated with all things mystical and, at a young age, had discovered she had a knack for reading people, or more specifically the auras that surrounded them. Tarot cards helped her get a more in-depth reading but, in most cases, she was able to get a solid bead on people by studying the color of their aura.

When she was little, she called it the glow and only her mother knew what she was talking about because she could see it too. Kai’s dad would chuckle when his girls yammered on about auras, inner light and so forth. Kai was relatively certain her father thought it was just a silly game but she and her mom knew better.

While Kai’s mother was happy to discuss it in private, she discouraged the idea of sharing their intuitive nature with other people. So when Kai opened the tarot shop, her mom was less than thrilled and worried that Kai might attract the wrong sort of people—the ones without light.

Her mother, Katherine, called them the Dark Ones and warned Kai they would come if Kai wasn’t careful about the kind of mystical practices she dabbled in. According to her mother’s stories, the Dark Ones were capable of stealing a person’s light—essentially they were soul- stealers. Her mother said that a Dark One could suck the soul out of a regular person but that it was even more dangerous for people who saw auras or light the way that Kai did.

Kai shuddered but quickly shook it off. She knew her mother was being overly cautious or perhaps just flat out made up these scary stories to keep her from using her powers too freely.

Kai scoffed as she continued to fight with the lock on the attic door. The idea of a person without an aura was ludicrous because it would mean they didn’t have a soul. Kai had never met anyone without light. Some people had auras that were darker or murkier than others, but everyone had a glow of some kind because everyone has a soul. Even animals have auras.

Kai let out a short laugh as she adjusted her grip on the iron key. Right now, she’d give just about anything for one of her mother’s lectures on the mystic realm…and one of her hugs. The hole in Kai’s heart grew smaller with time but there were moments the sadness and grief would surge and threaten to overwhelm her.

Not today. Today she would reclaim this house in her mother’s memory and in honor of the twenty-five loving years her parents had shared. Kai had come out here with the intention of clearing the place out and selling it, but once she set foot on the property, something inside of her, that swirling unsettled energy that constantly battled to be let out…stilled.

With a growl of frustration, Kai swiped sweaty strands of blond hair from her forehead.

“Old man,” she muttered through clenched teeth as she tried to force the lock. “This door is as stubborn as you were.”

Holding her breath, the key slippery in her sweaty hands, Kai leaned her shoulder against the white painted door and in one final effort, the lock gave way with a satisfying thunk. Kai let out a sound of relief and gave Zephyr a thumbs up, while, in typical feline fashion she sat in the hallway giving Kai a bored look.

“Well, you could at least give me a small meow or something.” Kai said between heavy breaths. “I almost had a stroke trying to get this door open.”

Zephyr let out a short mewling sound and promptly began licking her front paw, clearly unimpressed.

“Nice.” Kai laughed as she wiped sweat from her brow and tightened her ponytail. “Some help you are. It’s just the two of us out here in the middle of nowhere so you better behave yourself or I might let the coyotes get you.”

Zephyr meowed loudly and flounced over, rubbing her furred body up against Kai’s bare calf.

“Oh, I’m just kidding.” Kai scratched the cat’s head and brushed the layer of cat hair off her skin as Zephyr trotted down the hall. “Shit, you are shedding like crazy. I can’t blame you. It’s hotter than Hades in here but something tells me it will feel downright balmy compared to the attic.”

As if answering her prayers, a cool breeze from the open window at the end of the hallway wafted over her, providing momentary relief. Kai closed her eyes and reveled in the breeze but as soon as she tugged the attic door open she got a face full of thick, stale humid air.

Kai flipped the light switch on the wall as she tried not to breathe in the stifling air. To her great relief, the bulb dangling at the top of the steps still worked, so at least she wouldn’t be stumbling around in the dark. Steeling herself, Kai climbed the creaky wooden steps with a combination of excitement and trepidation.

On one hand, she loved the idea of investigating what hidden treasures might be up there, but on the other, was the irrational fear that the bogeyman was in a dark corner waiting for her.

As Kai gripped the weathered railing, she coughed as dusty air filled her lungs, and reminded herself that the Dark Ones weren’t hiding in attic corners. Darkness, true evil, lived in the hidden parts of people’s hearts and minds, and that was more terrifying than any bogeyman.

As one Converse-clad foot hit the landing she looked around in awe. The attic was a cavernous space that ran the entire width of the house and it was filled with years worth of stuff. Dust-filled rays of sunlight streamed in from two oval windows, one at either end of the room, and Kai let out an exhausted sigh as she walked around the box-littered floor.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Kai murmured.

Zephyr rubbed against her leg again before trotting off and disappearing into the sea of clutter.

“If you find any mice, please don’t behead them and drop them at my feet.” Kai stepped over an old steamer trunk. “It’s gross and I’m already convinced of your bad-ass ninja like fighting skills. I don’t need anymore proof.”

Making her way through what looked like a path amid the clutter, Kai opened both windows, which made the space bearable. Between the open windows and the door at the bottom of the steps, a gentle breeze now flowed through the musty room.

Kai glanced over and saw Zephyr lying on top of a box in front of one of the windows, settling in for yet another nap.

“Your mouse hunting skills are rivaled only by your ability to sleep but I guess that’s why they call them cat naps,” she laughed. “Don’t mind me. I’m just jealous. But as soon as I get through this mess, I’m taking a nap of my own.”

Several hours later, Kai had managed to dig through almost every box and pile in the stuffy attic. Most of it was comprised of old clothes, blankets, books and records. There didn’t appear to be anything of any real value monetarily or emotionally, and it became abundantly clear she was going to need to have all of it hauled away. Little of it was even in good enough shape to donate.

She’d hoped that there would be pictures of her mom as a little girl, old photo albums or something, but no such luck. Kai chalked it up to the fact that Jacob, clearly hadn’t bothered with sentiment.

Her grandmother had died soon after Kai’s mother was born and Jacob was so distraught he removed all images of his wife from the home. Kai shook her head as she stood up and brushed dust from the back of her shorts. “Charming.”

A sudden gust of wind rattled the window and slammed it shut with a nerve-shattering crack. The sound had Kai jump about a foot in the air and sent Zephyr running for cover beneath a stack of framed prints that were leaning against the beamed wall.

“Holy crap,” she said with a laugh. Kai’s hand rested on her chest as her heart thundered rapidly. “That scared the bejezzus out of me.”

Kai stepped over a few boxes and went to inspect the window, convinced the glass must have cracked from the force of the blow. To her relief the only thing that had come off was a bunch of old white paint chips that were scattered over the blanket where Zephyr had been sleeping.

“Looks like your bed got dirty,” Kai said as she brushed away the flakes of white. She peered over her shoulder at the cat, currently hissing at Kai from her hiding spot. “Don’t be pissed at me. I didn’t make the wind blow.”

Kai turned back and noticed the blanket was covering a small crate. She pulled it off, coughing from a mouth full of dust. Beneath it was a weathered wooden box with faded symbols she couldn’t quite make out. The top was nailed shut, which only piqued her curiosity further.

“Leave it to you,” she said to Zephyr. “To find the most interesting-looking thing in the whole place. I’m gonna need a crow bar or something to open this one. Come on, girl. Let’s get it downstairs.”

Kai picked up the box and while it clearly had something inside, it wasn’t as heavy as she thought it would be. With Zephyr at her heels, Kai made her way down the steps and breathed a sigh of relief when she hit the much cooler air of the second floor.

Mystery box in hand, Kai trotted down the main staircase, which led to the front entry hall of the old colonial. She passed through the massive formal dining room that looked like it hadn’t been used in a century and took her treasure into the sunny country kitchen.

She put the crate on the weathered butcher-block kitchen table, but as she headed for the mudroom, the sound of a car pulling up the driveway caught her attention. With Zephyr at her heels, Kai went to the front hall and peered through the screen door to see a familiar black Lexus pulling to a stop in the semi-circular dirt drive.

Smiling, Kai pushed open the creaky door and stepped out onto the covered porch to greet Mr. Flaherty. She held the door for Zephyr but the petulant feline stuck her tail in the air and went back inside, clearly uninterested in their visitor. Kai brushed her hands off and trotted down the steps to greet her grandfather’s attorney.

Ben Flaherty stepped out of the car and looked even more out of place in this rural setting than his car did. His dark suit and crisp white shirt stood out in stark contrast to the rolling green fields and red weathered barn. He was tall, handsome, wealthy and educated. The kind of man she would never in a million years attempt to date because the man was slick from head to toe.

Even his aura was extra bright. Most healthy people had brightly colored auras but his was an almost blinding yellow. She’d never met anyone with an aura that bright other than her own mother. The familiar feel of his aura was probably why she’d felt comfortable with him right off the bat.

His clothes were never wrinkled and so far she’d seen no evidence that he perspired, and at the moment Kai was sweating like a pig.

Mr. Flaherty flashed a big pearly, white grin as he crossed around the front of the car and extended his hand to Kai.

“What brings you all the way out here, Mr. Flaherty?” Kai asked as she shook his well- manicured hand.

“I thought I told you to call me Ben,” he said as his aura shifted from yellow to a reddish hue. “Mr. Flaherty was my father.”

Kai blushed as his hand held hers a bit longer than a typical handshake.

“Right,” Kai said. She dropped her hand and stuck it in the pocket of her shorts. That color change in his aura was a sure fire sign that he was attracted to her and she had to admit, he was cute. “I thought we took care of everything the other day in your office.”

“We did,” he said as he took off his sunglasses and peered at her with warm brown eyes. “But since you don’t know anyone in the area and you’re living out here all alone, I thought I’d pop in and check on you. You look like you’ve been working hard,” he said as his eyes wandered over her.

“You could say that,” Kai said as she self-consciously brushed off her dusty tank top. “I managed to get through most of the house and today I finally tackled the attic.”

“Really?” His gaze flicked to the open attic windows and his eyebrows rose. “In this heat? You’re a brave soul, Kai Kelly. Find anything of interest?”

“Not really. Mostly old clothes and stuff.” Silence stretched out for a moment as he continued to study her. Feeling awkward, Kai jutted her thumb toward the house and squinted against the setting sun. “Would you like to come in for a glass of lemonade?”

“I’d love to but I have to get back into Gooding for a dinner meeting.” Ben glanced at his watch and then locked eyes with Kai. His voice dropped to a softer tone. “I’ll do you one better, though. How about if you let me take you out for dinner tomorrow night?”

“Uh, sure,” she said with a smile.?Kai stuck her hands in the pockets of her shorts and instantly felt even more self-conscious than she did before. She didn’t own a single item of clothing that would be appropriate for any restaurant Ben would want to go to.

“Did you have any place in particular in mind because I saw a neat looking place in town and I wanted to try it,” she said. “Angels and Outlaws. Have you heard of it?”

“Well, sure.” Ben let out a short laugh. “But I was hoping for our first date to be somewhere more fitting of a lady. But I want you to be comfortable. So Angels and Outlaws it is.”

First date? Kai swallowed the lump in her throat and wrestled with her conflicting emotions. Ben was hot and rich and she’d be crazy not to go out with him. So why was she feeling hesitant?

“Well,” Kai began slowly as she tried not to notice the ripples of red in his aura. “I’m a simple girl and if you tried to take me to one of the fancy places you probably had in mind, I’d use the wrong fork or something. A burger joint is fine with me. How about if we meet there tomorrow night around seven?”

“Sounds good to me,” Ben said as a smile cracked his face. He slipped his sunglasses back on and walked back to the driver’s side of his car. “I’ll see you at seven tomorrow and by the way…something tells me you’re anything but a simple girl.”

Before Kai could respond Ben was in his car and driving down the driveway. As the cloud of dust settled and his taillights disappeared from view, a smile played at Kai’s lips. Maybe Bliss wasn’t going to be so boring after all?

Kai made her way back into the house and started rooting around in a box of tools that were in the mudroom adjacent to the kitchen. Crow bar in hand, she came back into the kitchen and found Zephyr sitting on top of the box again.

“What’s your story?” Kai asked with narrowed eyes as she pointed the crow bar at her companion. “I’ll make you a deal. You can have the box but I get whatever’s inside.”

Zephyr, seemingly satisfied with the arrangement, hopped off the crate and onto one of the chairs. Her large blue eyes stared intently at the box, her curiosity matching Kai’s. That phrase curiosity killed the cat ran through Kai’s mind.

“Here goes nothing,” she murmured.

Finding the seam along the top, Kai wedged the tip of the crowbar into the crack and with one big push the top popped open. She did the same thing along two other edges, and when she finally pulled the top off, what she found inside left her stunned.

A stack of old black and white photographs sat inside, and the hauntingly familiar face of a young woman stared up at Kai through a pair of large dark eyes. Eyes that were just like hers. With shaking fingers, Kai reached in and pulled out the pile of weathered photographs.

She flipped through the stack one at a time and found that every picture was of the same woman. Based on the fifties style clothing and striking resemblance to both Kai and her mother, Kai could only assume this was her grandmother, Kristine.

All the photos showed a smiling young woman full of life, but it was the last picture that gave her pause.

It was an image of her grandmother with a baby in her arms and Kai was certain it was her mother, when she was an infant. Tears fell freely down Kai’s cheeks as she ran one finger over the faded image. Sniffling, she flipped the picture over to see if there was a date and while there was something written, it wasn’t what she expected.

My sweet, Katherine. The next Custodian.

“Custodian?” Kai said, confused. Her grandmother was a custodian? “Do we come from some long line of school janitors or something?”

As Kai swiped at her damp cheek with the back of her hand, she spotted a small black bag that had been hidden beneath the photos. She placed the stack of photos on the table and picked up the heavy, worn, cotton bag and felt a lump inside. Kai loosened the drawstring and turned the bag over, emptying the contents into her hand.

A heavy ring made of iron, tumbled into her palm and the metal felt cool against her damp skin. Holding it between her fingers, Kai squinted and went to the light by the kitchen window to try and make out the unusual design on the round face

There were a series of four circles with some kind of lettering evenly spaced between the rings. It was so tiny and worn away by time that she’d need a magnifying glass to get a clue as to what it said. At the center of the smallest circle was what looked like a star and it had some kind of crystal in the middle.

“Why wouldn’t Jacob have given this to my mom?” she murmured.

It was beautiful. Not in a traditionally gorgeous and sparkling kind of way but beautiful, none-the-less and it was definitely old. She had no idea just how old but it really didn’t matter. This ring obviously belonged to her grandmother and that’s what made it valuable.

“Priceless.”

Smiling through her tears, Kai slipped the precious ring onto the middle finger of her right hand and found that it fit perfectly. As she held her hand up to inspect her newfound prize, a howling gust of wind ripped through the house and slammed the front door shut.

Kai yelped and spun around to see the pile of pictures blow around the room and flutter to the kitchen floor. Her hands gripped the edge of the counter behind her as she fought to still her racing heartbeat. Zephyr was nowhere to be seen and the only sound was the old cuckoo clock that ticked loudly on the wall.

She squatted down to pick up the scattered photos and as she placed them back on top of the table, her attention was captured by something written on the side of the crate. As her gaze slid over the words, the little hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Custodians of the Light.

***

The disturbance in the air had been subtle, a quiet rumbling that, at first, Asmodeus mistook for the usual notification of new arrivals. Every day when a new batch of tormented souls arrived, there was a shift in the atmosphere. As one of the seven Princes of Hell and the Demon of Lust, he was responsible for the pathetic individuals who earned their ticket to hell by reveling in lust and desire.

Lust or lusting for someone wasn’t evil but when humans allowed themselves to be corrupted by it, that was when the scales tipped to damnation. The souls that landed in his little corner of hell were the worst of the worst.

Rapists, murderers, pedophiles. The humans, who in Asmodeus’ opinion, gave lust a bad name and he was more than happy to escort them into an eternity of hell and damnation.

But he could do without the paperwork.

Asmodeus had been overseeing tortured souls in Hell for several millennia and he was growing weary of it. He watched mortals, on many occasions, and envied the life, the freedoms they were given. So when they abused that freedom, there was something gratifying about implementing their punishment.

Lucifer, the leader of all demons, granted them a vacation on earth every one hundred years. However, Asmodeus, much to his dismay, wasn’t due for another trip for quite some time. Oh, he’d snuck up there a time or two to help his half-mortal son but he didn’t stay long enough to truly enjoy it.

While Asmodeus loved trips to the mortal plane he sure as shit didn’t want to get a trip to earth like this. As he walked through the tunnels of stone that led to the mortal plane, he let out a beleaguered sigh.

The first disturbance in the air had been nothing compared to the series of bone shattering sonic booms that rocked the Underworld in nauseating succession. The instant it happened, Asmodeus knew what it was. He’d heard and felt that same ear-splitting sound three thousand years before and, until an hour ago, Asmodeus and the rest of the Brotherhood thought the threat had been eliminated.

Apparently not.

The disturbance in Hell meant that someone had found the Ring of Solomon. ?The ring had the ability to control all demons and if the bearer so desired, it could be used to destroy them as well. King Solomon had almost done exactly that when the guy had put Asmodeus and the rest of the Brotherhood under his complete control. Lucky for them, one hot summer day, Solomon had imbibed far too much wine and his curiosity got the better of him. He asked Asmodeus what demons could do if they had total power over humans. What powers did they truly possess?

Asmodeus promised to show him but said he needed the ring and his freedom in order to properly demonstrate. Solomon, drunk as a skunk, handed the ring to Asmodeus, who then promptly tossed it into the sea, releasing the Brotherhood in the process.

They all thought that was the end of it. Not so much.

Someone had not only found the ring but was wearing it and, whether or not they knew it; this individual quite literally could command Hell. Since none of the demons had been summoned, it was a safe bet that the bearer of the ring had zero idea of the kind of power they had in their hands.

However, not wanting to take any chances, Lucifer chose to send Asmodeus?and the rest of the Brotherhood up to earth in search of the ring. As far as Asmodeus was concerned it was like looking for a needle in a haystack and could take a century to find it.

They knew was it was somewhere in North America but since they were unable to pinpoint its location they suspected the mortal wearing the ring possessed some type of unique gift. Given the fact that the ring’s whereabouts were somehow cloaked, the wearer must be a unique human being indeed.

Asmodeus slipped on a pair of aviator sunglasses as he strode out the mouth of the cave. Wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and motorcycle boots, he placed his hands on his hips and let out an exasperated sigh as he surveyed the area. Idaho. Of all places, he gets to start his search in Idaho.

There were several direct portals to Hell within the continental United States. Los Angeles, Houston, Las Vegas and New York City just to name a few, but one of them was deep within the caves of the Craters of the Moon. The four hundred-acre lava field was one of the only places on earth that actually resembled the Underworld but it wasn’t exactly a bustling metropolis.

Although, given Asmodeus’ weakness for the company of women and pleasures of the flesh, he wasn’t terribly surprised that he pulled this particular location. Having fewer ladies around meant fewer distractions and he knew that was exactly why Lucifer stuck him way the hell out here.

Great. He gets an extra chance to enjoy the mortal plane and Lucifer puts him in one of the most desolate places in North America.

“What a dick,” Asmodeus murmured as he squinted against the light of the setting sun.

Welcome back to earth, Lucifer’s voice touched the collective consciousness of the Brotherhood. Based on various disturbances in the energy fields, I have sent the six of you to the locations the ring is most likely to be. Additionally, there are certain individuals located in these areas that are descended from unique bloodlines and are the most probable candidates to be in possession of the ring.

Something glinting in the distance caught his eye. Asmodeus grinned when he saw the black and chrome motorcycle waiting for him by the edge of the deserted highway.

I’m not completely cruel. Lucifer’s voice floated around Asmodeus with his usual air of self-importance. You have each been provided with a mode of transportation and a duffle bag with money and some clothing. There is also a paper with the names and locations of the individuals you should be looking for. They’re listed in priority order for your convenience.

You’re a real prince, Asmodeus interjected. I’m sure this all looks very convenient from your corner office in Hell.

Stop whining, Asmodeus. Lucifer’s voice, edged with boredom filled his mind. You haven’t even thanked me for the motorcycle.

Asmodeus stopped dead in his tracks and dug into the pockets of the Levi’s he was wearing. His smile broadened as he pulled out the keys to the Harley Davidson and started walking again toward the bike. Lucifer might be a son of a bitch but he had his moments. “Not bad,” he murmured. “But you’re still a dick.”

Yes, I know. Arrogance dripped from Lucifer’s every word but as the Demon of Pride and leader of the Brotherhood, it was of little surprise. We have two immediate problems, other than the obvious. Asmodeus tried to keep his attention on Lucifer, instead of the gorgeous bike. He ran his hands over the smooth curve of the handles as Lucifer’s deep, gravelly voice touched the collective minds of the Brotherhood. Since we haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact location of the ring, my concern is that has something to do with whoever is wearing it and you all know how much I loathe not having all the information. Secondly, if you’ll recall, the ring cannot be taken from its owner, it has to be given to one of you willingly.

What if the guy wearing it befalls some kind of horrible accident? Falls off a cliff? Runs into a bullet…or my fist? Satan’s voice cut into the conversation and Asmodeus smirked as he walked around and appraised the bike. Satan was the Demon of Wrath, loved mayhem and was the biggest troublemaker in the bunch. Can we take it if he’s dead?

Yes, Lucifer responded. But you know full well that we can’t harm an innocent, so I suppose you’ll just have to play that part by ear.

Asmodeus opened the duffle bag that was strapped to the back of the bike and pulled out the paper. He perused the list of names and the one at the top grabbed his attention immediately. Kai Kelly—Bliss, Idaho. His lips tilted as he folded the paper up and stuck it in the back pocket of his jeans. Kai was a woman’s name, wasn’t it?

What makes you think it’s a guy? Asmodeus asked as a grin cracked his face. Could be a lovely lady and wouldn’t that be far more pleasant?

Well, shit. Mammon’s irritated tone cut into the conversation. As the Demon of Envy he was always feeling slighted and as though he somehow got the short end of the stick. If it is a chick and Asmodeus finds her first, he’ll spend a month in bed with her before he gets the ring. I don’t know what part of the continent you guys got, but I’m stuck in Alaska and I’ll bet the ring is nowhere near here. Brother, if it is a broad then do us all a favor and get the ring before you fuck her.

Whatever, man. Belphegor’s bored voice interrupted them. I’m in no rush. I haven’t been to earth in a long time. You know all work and no play makes the Demon of Sloth a dull boy.

Mammon, Asmodeus responded playfully, if I didn’t know better I’d say you were jealous.

Screw you.

No thanks, brother. Asmodeus’ laugh, deep and loud touched their collective minds. You’re not my type.

If you’re all quite finished. Lucifer’s voice, sharp and curt, cut off any further banter. You will get the ring by whatever means necessary. However, Mammon raises an interesting point.

A heavy silence hung as they waited for Lucifer to continue.

I’m concerned the six of you may succumb to temptations and find yourselves distracted from your mission. I have sent you there to find the ring and bring it back to the Underworld, not to indulge in your vices. In addition, as demons you won’t be able to get within a mile of the ring without alerting the person wearing it. Chances are that the human who has found the ring has no idea the power that it holds— otherwise we’d have been summoned already. However, we can’t afford to take risks. In hindsight, having you all down there as full-blooded demons seems unwise.

Asmodeus glanced over his shoulder at the field of black rocks as a feeling of dread crawled up his back. What did he mean…as full-blooded demons?

In order for you to get anywhere near the bearer, and to assure you stay focused, I am going to make one small adjustment for your current stay. Lucifer’s voice wavered and Asmodeus could tell the son of a bitch was smiling. It’s really for your own good.

Just as Asmodeus was about to ask what he was talking about a burning sensation fired through his body, stealing his breath. The sudden onslaught sent him to his knees as he gasped for air and agonizing pain radiated across his chest. Asmodeus’ hands hit the rocks and gravel scraped against his jean-clad knees as he fought a sudden and unfamiliar wave of nausea.

Sucking in a deep breath, he pushed himself off the ground with a grunt and kneeled for a moment as he regained his bearings. He tore the sunglasses from his face, suddenly feeling the uncomfortable effects of the late afternoon sun. Up until seconds ago, the heat had not fazed him in the least. Asmodeus’ palms stung and when he lifted his hands, he swore loudly when he saw speckles of blood mixed with dirt.

Demons did not bleed.

When you find the ring, you will telepath me immediately, and if necessary I will send the rest of the Brotherhood to assist. Lucifer’s voice, calm, cool and detached whispered through Asmodeus’ mind. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how dire the situation is, but to sweeten the pot…whomever finds the ring and brings it back to Hell will earn a three-month vacation on earth.

If their minds had still been connected, Asmodeus would have surely heard the others when Lucifer laid the reward before them. One of the only things that any of them looked forward to was their time on earth, and to get an extra three months would be spectacular.

However, Asmodeus was met with silence. It was an odd sensation, to be disconnected from the rest of the Brotherhood. The pulsing energy of their minds was conspicuously absent and for the first time in several millennia.

As you get close to the ring, Lucifer’s voice floated into his mind but sounded far away, you will feel the pulse of its power but your abilities will be limited. Although, you’ll be stronger than most humans, I’m not entirely sure what powers you’ll retain. The telekinesis and ability to manipulate heat may or may not remain. It may vary from brother to brother. At least that’s what’s most likely.

Likely? Asmodeus gritted his teeth as sweat trickled down his back and the pain ebbed across his chest. You have no idea what you’re doing. Do you, Lucifer?

Ignoring him, Lucifer continued.

I have also left each of you with the ability to telepath me once it’s found but not each other. Our collective mental link emanates far too much power and would definitely blow your cover…so to speak. I realize this is less than appealing but it’s the only way to protect members of the Brotherhood. Lucifer’s laugh rasped through Asmodeus’ mind as his voice faded. And to ensure you do what you need to do, there’s nothing wrong with a little extra incentive. I can’t imagine any of you want to stay on earth in this…. state.

“You mother fucker,” Asmodeus ground out as he stood up and bit back a wave of unfamiliar pain. “What did you do?”

Asmodeus held out his arms and watched as the tattoos that covered the length of his arms and ran across his back…vanished. The intricate design, seven interlocking circles with a five-pointed star at the center, was the mark of the Brotherhood and had branded his flesh for his entire existence-until now.

Lucifer made them mortal.