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«Working for the Devil», Lilith Saintcrow

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To L. I.

I keep my bargains.

Acknowledgments

Writing is a solitary endeavor—and yet, no book is created in a vacuum. My thanks must go first and foremost to James, Maddy, and Nicky. Without them, the drive to create would be not nearly so strong in me—and the bonds of love that keep me together would not exist. For James, then-"Bananas." To Mom and Dad: bet you never guessed all those books would end up like this, huh?

Thanks are also due to Linda Kichline, one of the first to believe in me; Betsy Gallup and Ann MacDonald for the inception of AnotherChapter.com and for their editing, kindness, and great humor. The world of Danny Valentine would literally not be without them. Thanks to the best literary agent in the world, Miriam Kriss; I must also thank Devi Pillai at Warner, one of the best editors I've ever worked with. Without Miriam and Devi's enthusiasm and care, this book would be much worse and probably unpublished to boot. Special note to them both: thank you for putting up with this neurotic writer.

A roll call of the people who kept me sane while I wrote this book: Joe Zeutenhorst, who can always be counted on for a good time and a sharp tongue, who also gave me the key to unlock Jace; Chris Goodwin, who danced with me at the Alibi Room; my sisters Alison and Tricia (always and forever, you know); Jess Hartley, who has been a true-blue friend ever since we met; Jeff and Janine Davis for putting up with one mad forgetful writer (special thanks to Jeff for long talks about the nature of ghosts); Josh Carter for his clarity (pop!pop!) and Andrzej Karwacki for teaching me so much about my own characters; Akira, Lenore, and Sideeffekt at Dead-Journal, and Jonas Secher, who I will probably never meet face to face.

To Nicholas Deangelo, my heart still remembers your name. Thank you for teaching me about honor.

Big thanks to those creative people I've never met but who have informed the world of Dante Valentine: Joy Division and New Order, the Eagles, Moby, Mandalay, Garbage, Quentin Tarantino (who will never recognize himself in my books), Alex Proyas (who I want to direct some movies if we ever find the time), Jacqueline Carey (best damn fantasy author in the last decade), Jacques Cazotte, John Milton (of Lucifer's party without knowing it), and many others who must remained unnamed.

Lastly: thank you to everyone who reads my work and calls it good. You are who I write for. And to those who read my work and call it bad: thank you very much. You inspire me to keep going just to prove you wrong.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,

che la diritta via era smarrita.

— Dante

 

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed

In one self place, for where we are is hell,

And where hell is must we ever be.

— Mephistopheles, by way of Marlowe

CHAPTER 1

My working relationship with Lucifer began on a rainy Monday. I'd just settled down to a long afternoon of watching the holovid soaps and doing a little divination, spreading the cards and runes out on the hank of blue silk I'd laid out, when there was a bashing on my door that shook the walls.

I turned over a card, my lacquered fingernails scraping. The amber ring on my left middle finger sparked. The Devil card pulsed, landing atop a pile of flat runestones. I hadn't touched it. The card I turned over was blank.

"Interesting," I said, gooseflesh rippling up my back. Then I hauled myself up off the red threadbare carpet and padded barefoot out into the hallway. My rings flashed, a drift of green sparks snapping and popping down my fingers. I shook them off, frowning.

The lines of Power wedded to my front door twirled uneasily. Something nasty was on my front step. I hitched up my jeans, then reached over and curled my fingers around the sword hanging on the wall. I lifted it down, chucked the blade free with my thumb against the guard.

The peephole in the middle of the door was black, no light spilling through. I didn't bother looking. Instead, I touched the door, spreading the fingers of my right hand against smooth iron. My rings rang and vacillated, reading the flow of whatever was behind the door.

Oh, gods above and below, I thought. Whatever it is, it's big.

Bracing myself for murder or a new job, I unlocked the door and stepped back, my sword half-drawn. The blue glow from Power-drenched steel lit up my front hall, glimmering against the white paint and the full-length mirror hung next to my coatrack. I waited.

The door creaked slowly open. Let's have some mood music for effect, I thought sardonically, and prepared to sell myself dear if it was murder.

I can draw my sword in a little under a second and a half. Thankfully, there was no need to. I blinked.

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