2015 RWA® Golden Heart® winning novel
Seven short weeks. After beating his boss at the poker table, ambitious demon Belial must appease Satan, so he takes on a new bet. If he can get God’s champion to curse God, aloud and in public, within the agreed timeframe, Hell gains another soul and Belial earns a coveted promotion to chief executive demon—second only to Satan himself. The demon always wins, but this time the deck may be stacked against him.
Seven long weeks. Widowed nurse Dara Strong is the ace up God’s sleeve. The granddaughter of famous demon fighters, Dara has no problem recognizing Belial as Dr. Ben Lyle. When the demon in doctor’s disguise appears in her clinic, she kicks him out the door. If she can hold out against the alluring demon till the wager expires, Dara will be safe. The problem is she already has plenty of reason to curse God, and Belial, the most successful soul-stealer in the history of Hell, is not about to give up easily.
Belial may look heavenly, but his soul belongs to Satan. As the battle between these cosmically well-matched opponents escalates, conflict breeds passion and passion transforms into love. Caught between a victory-hungry Satan and an unforgiving God, Belial and Dara discover there may be only one way to ransom the soul of a fallen angel: sometimes you have to go through Hell to claim your Heaven.
"Would you like to dance?" Ben asked.
"I don't dance." Dara enunciated each word carefully, so he wouldn't realize how inebriated she was.
He smiled a slow smile that said he knew exactly how drunk she was. "You may be better off not trying to stand up anyway."
"I'm fine," she said. "I just don't engage in the devil's pastime." Ugh. She sounded exactly like Nana.
"He's never been that much into dancing," Ben said. "Gambling is more his thing."
She put her elbows on the table and folded her hands, making a cradle. With care, she balanced her chin on top of the cradle.
"Really?" she said. "That's fasssscinating."
His lips quirked as though he wanted to laugh, but he didn't.
"What else?" she asked.
His smile deepened. "What do you mean, 'what else'?"
Her chin rocked a little on her hands. She stilled it. "What else do you know that's fascinating?"
"Lots of things." His lips—his beautiful, smooth, shapely lips—quirked again. "What would you like to know?"
At the moment, the only thing she could think of was what it would be like to have hot demon sex with him. "Nothing."
"I see," he said. She had the feeling he knew exactly what was going through her mind.
From inside the bar, the strains of "Can't Help Falling in Love with You" flowed out the door. It was a challenging piece, but the lead singer was surprisingly good for a bar band.
"I love this song." She hummed along, swaying in time to the music.
He tilted his head. "Are you sure you don't want to dance?"
She did want to dance. At that moment, she wanted to dance more than anything in the world. She wanted to be self-confident and fun, like Lilith. But she'd never learned how. Granddaughters of ultra-conservative demon-fighters did not dance. That struck her as very sad.
"I don't know how to dance." She sniffled. A tear slowly rolled down her cheek.
Ben made a choking sound that might have been a laugh. Then he stood and held out his hand. "Slow dancing requires absolutely no skill whatsoever. You just shuffle your feet and sway in time to the music."
She shook her head. "I can't."
"Come on. What do you have to lose?"
It was so tempting. "Will you steal my soul?"
"On the dance floor?" He gave the ghost of a laugh. "No."
Welcome to Ink & Magick. I’m your friendly neighborhood witch. What kind of spell can I get for you today?
I am Belial, Chief Operating Demon of Hell and soon to be Chief Executive Demon, second only to Satan himself. What could I possibly need from a young woman who spends her time dismembering frogs?
Well, aren't we hoity-toity? Cool your jets there, demon-boy. I do a lot of these interviews, and I happen to know at least three other demons who also claim to be second-in-command in Hell.
The others are exaggerating. Satan has promised that if I seduce Dara Strong into cursing the Enemy, I will win that promotion.
Yeah, well he promised me that if I let him voh-de-oh-doh without a condom, I wouldn't get knocked up, but I've got a little cambion at home with his daddy's glowing red eyes.
You can't really compare—
Let's talk a little about how a smart, good-looking guy like you wound up in a place like Hell.
Ten thousand years ago I was walking guard duty with Lucifer—you know him as Satan. We were bored, because who would attack Heaven? Anyway, Luce suggested we start our own business in competition with Heaven. He said all we'd have to do was set up shop and we would rake in souls by the thousands.
And you fell for that? (Snickers.) I just made a funny—get it? You fell for that?
He can be very persuasive. As you know. Anyway, we assembled some other angels who were frustrated at never getting ahead—maybe a third of the heavenly host—and voila, Hell was born.
And how's that working out for you?
Not, perhaps, as well as one might wish, but with the completion of this mission I will have attained a much higher status than I could ever have achieved working for the Enemy. Soon, all the other demons will have to bow down to me.
Psychologists say a guy who needs other people to kiss his butt is basically insecure, usually because he has a dinky little—
I thought you were supposed to be a friendly witch? Everything on this body was Heaven-issued and perfectly proportioned.
(Raises eyebrow) Okay, okay, don't get your panties in a bunch. Let's talk about this mission of yours. Is this your first gig?
Of course not. I'm the most successful soul-stealer in the history of Hell. I've lured thousands of souls to their doom.
How do you plan to seduce this Dara Strong?
With the signature snares I've used since time immemorial—wealth, fornication, and corruption of the sanctuary.
O-kay. Break that down for me.
First, I will shower her with untold riches.
Where are you going to get these untold riches?
Hell's coffers are extensive.
True. They're also guarded by Mammon, the stingiest demon to ever pinch a penny.
This is Satan's top priority. Mammon will have no choice but to fund me.
Sure. That could happen. Go on.
After I turn the woman's head with jewels and sumptuous furs—
She lives in Florida. What does she want with furs?
I speak metaphorically. After I shower her with material goods, I will give her sexual pleasures such as no woman has ever experienced.
I though you said this wasn't your first gig. What happened the other times? (Leans in sympathetically) Your witching rod wasn't up to the task?
(Frostily) I stand corrected. Sexual pleasures such as few women have ever experienced.
Hot sex is good. Now tell me about this corruption of the sanctuary.
Dara Strong has turned the clinic her husband founded into her personal sanctuary. All of her money, all of her energy, all of her attention she pours into that clinic. Once she is in thrall to me, I will convince her to destroy everything she's built. Then, I will abandon her. With nothing left, she will curse the Enemy's name and become another lost soul.
I can see that you're a man with a plan. A really awful plan, but a plan nevertheless. (Checks clock) Well, it looks like we're out of time. This has been an interview with the demon Belial, dubbed Hell's politician by none other than John Milton himself, and soon-to-be second-in-command in Hell, or so he tells us. Thanks for talking with us today, Bel.
Thank you for having me.
Tune in tomorrow, folks, when I talk to Poseidon about his new seafood diet.
Jeanne Oates Estridge wrote her first short story in third grade, a tale of birth-control-challenged bunnies who named their children in alphabetical order—Alice, Benjamin, Cathy, Dexter—all the way down to baby Zachary. Life has a way of handing us detours, though, and Jeanne wound up earning her degree, and her living, as a computer analyst.
She continued to write at night and on weekends, but could never write anything that satisfied her. Unwilling to give up, she enrolled in the Romance Writing program at McDaniel College and went on to win the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart® for The Demon Always Wins.
You can get your copy of The Demon Always Wins on Amazon. Watch out for book 2 in Janurary 2019 and book 3 in May 2019.